Home Secretary John Reid has just been interviewed on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning programme. He used his slot to say he once had the "great privilege" of meeting the human rights-abusing Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (ConservativeHome says: "!X+&*^%") and kept the door very slightly open to the possibility of challenging Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership.
He also took the opportunity to say that the Tories were doing better than in recent years but no way well enough. He contrasted the current Tory position in opinion polls (high 30s) with the 47% rating that Labour achieved in local election results before 1997. John Reid is right in saying that the Conservatives have yet to enthuse enough of the electorate and have yet to consistently achieve election-winning opinion poll ratings. Where he is wrong is to set 47% as some sort of benchmark. How often did Labour achieve 47%? It’s also true that the Tories do not, of course, need a Blair landslide of 170 seats. Any reasonable majority will do.
Ahead of last year’s local elections ConservativeHome set some benchmarks for Cameron’s Conservatives. Here are a few indicators for this year…
- More than 40% of the vote. Given Labour’s difficulties over the last year the party should be looking to get more than the 40% we nearly achieved last year. It won’t be easy, however, because of the rise of ‘the others’. 42% or 43% will be very good news.
- Holding the vote in Scotland. Opinion polls suggest that the Conservatives will struggle to hold their existing tally of seats but Annabel Goldie has had a good election and may yet surprise us.
- Progress in Wales. Nick Bourne could lead Wales’ second party after May 3rd and David Cameron has given him freedom to join a coalition if he chooses.
- Winning against the Liberal Democrats. One of the great encouragements of last year were gains in LibDem-Tory contests. More of the same will again be the most important test of these elections (but not so spectacular that the LibDems choose to replace the hapless Ming Campbell).
- Northern gains. The party will be looking for more representation in northern cities. Francis Maude’s cup of joy will overflow if we break into certain councils where we currently lack any representation.
- Winning the briefings battle. I most remember Ken Baker’s success at presenting the 1990 local elections as being about whether the Tories could hold Wandsworth and Westminster. They did but Tory losses across the rest of the country were disastrous. The Tories need strong messages on Thursday night and throughout Friday (new postal vote checks will delay announcement of many results) in order to maximise the ‘halo effect’ of good results. CCHQ should be including the blogs in that effort. Last year’s local elections night (during which ConservativeHome carried out a live blog – we’ll be doing the same on Thursday night) was one of our best ever for traffic.
Related link: ‘How Well Should the Conservatives Do on May 3rd?’ asks Sean Fear and Eric Pickles’ local elections briefing