David Cameron is saying today that the era of New Labour is over. The complete absence of Labour from more than eighty councils – particularly in southern England – certainly stands in huge contrast to the heady early days of the first years of the Blair project when Labour advanced deep into Tory territory. There are still some big questions about the depth of Project Cameron but here are a few reasons why Conservatives can be increasingly positive about the party’s electoral prospects:
- The LibDems did very badly but probably won’t dump Ming. Killing off the bindweed of British politics is essential for any chance of a Tory majority and the scale of LibDem losses – much bigger than expected – provided the best news from Thursday. It does not appear, however, that the results were quite bad enough to encourage the hapless Ming Campbell to quit. And that’s good news for us Tories, too.
- Gordon Brown has failed in his own Scottish backyard. He actively campaigned for Scottish Labour and Tony Blair raised the prospect of a Scottish Prime Minister in a rally on Monday. Labour activists will be rightly worried about the effectiveness of their next leader, who lives in a seat represented by the LibDems and in a country that is likely to soon have an SNP First Minister. What are his chances in England?
- Following Charles Clarke’s decision of today not to challenge Gordon Brown he is most unlikely to face a serious challenge for the Labour leadership. Without a serious challenge there is unlikely to be the kind of media attention on Labour over the next ten weeks that would have produced a significant ‘oxygen-of-publicity’ opinion poll boost.
- Gordon Brown is no John Major. Labour are still hoping that Mr Brown may rescue Labour in the same way that John Major rescued the post-Thatcher Conservative Party (at least temporarily and at great cost). But John Major was much more of a fresh face to the electorate than the increasingly weary Chancellor Brown. It’s also unclear that Brown will make the kind of changes that Major made. By scrapping the community charge John Major ended the great source of Tory unpopularity. Does Gordon Brown have the political skill to engineer something similar? His ham-fisted 2007 Budget should not give Labour MPs much cause for hope.
- Mid-terms aren’t what they used to be. Conventional political analysis suggests that Governments recover in the latter stages of parliaments. As noted
before I’m not sure that that is so true anymore. Labour is in a
perpetual pursuit of popularity and it lacks the budgetary flexibility
to bribe what is, in any case, an incredibly savvy electorate. It is
as likely that the Tories will get more popular if the policy review
process reassures voters that a Conservative Government will be worth
- More than 800 extra councillors is another sign of the rebuilding of the party’s activist base. It’s not an unmixed blessing. Some new Tory councils won’t perform well and may harm efforts to win General Election seats but most new Conservative councils will be good for the wider prospects of the party and will provide many extra foot soldiers for future campaigns.
- Northern progress. Although the BBC continues to focus on Tory weakness in some of the great northern cities we did make real progress in those parts of the north where we have a realistic chance of taking Westminster seats. Blackpool, Chester and South Ribble were three highlights. More needs to be done to demonstrate that the Conservative Party aspires to lead a one nation government – committed to the welfare of the people of Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle – but we’re beginning to win where we need to.
- Cameron looks like a winner. 40% was a good result and much of it is due to the electorate’s warmth towards David Cameron although most is probably due to the unpopularity of Labour (and the weakness of the LibDem leader). One of his key assets is the united team he has built. A number of reports reached me on Friday morning about the fact that Cameron, Hague, Osborne, Maude and key advisers were all together in CCHQ throughout the election night. They were enjoying themselves and are clearly dedicated to each other. What a contrast with Labour’s top team(s).