By Tim Montgomerie
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Earlier this week we asked 1,898 Tory members to assess the danger that 25 factors represented to the Tory chances of winning the next election. Members were asked to rate each factor on a zero to ten scale (zero for no danger to Cameron getting returned to Number 10 and ten equalling maximum dange)r. Three factors topped the list as most dangerous:
- 7.99 / The lack of a compelling big Tory message
- 7.90 / Tax rises on ordinary families
- 7.89 / A suspicion that the Conservative Party is on the side of the wealthy rather than the ordinary worker
This ranking seems about right to me. Even now it's not clear what the Government stands for. Is it cuts? No, it should be growth. Is it the Big Society? Few people really know what that means. I've suggested it should be about economic renewal.
Members are also right to focus on "Tax rises on ordinary people". The British people were taxed too much before the Government increased VAT to 20% and imposed the granny and pasty taxes. 81% of Tory members are right to agree with the statement – "George Osborne needs to cut spending faster and avoid having to introduce extra taxes, for example, on pensioners and hot pasties".
Thirdly there's the danger of not looking like "we're all in this together". ConHome's repeated warnings about the need for a blue collar conservatism have been ignored. The danger is that any attempt to forge one in response to recent events will look tactical rather than real. I still think we must try.
Here are members' assessment of the 22 other factors:
- 7.88 / Sluggish economic growth
- 7.65 / High levels of immigration
- 7.47 / David Cameron neglecting traditional Tory beliefs
- 7.35 / Any donor and sleaze scandals
- 7.05 / Too much focus on issues like gay marriage and House of Lords reform
- 7.01 / High energy bills
- 6.97 / Too much caution from David Cameron in ordering the Tory machine to fight and therefore oust Liberal Democrat MPs
- 6.89 / Lack of Tory progress in northern England
- 6.82 / Opposition from The Sun, Mail and other newspapers
- 6.82 / Disunity in Tory ranks
6.77 / Problems in the NHS
- 6.71 / The growth of UKIP as a vehicle for disillusioned Conservative and Eurosceptic voters
- 6.56 / The boundary changes are not introduced into law
- 6.51 / BBC bias
- 6.29 / Declining party membership so there are fewer activists to deliver leaflets
- 6.24 / British soldiers getting involved in more overseas wars
- 5.87 / Broken promises on policies like the third runway at Heathrow
- 5.50 / A change of Labour leader, for example to Yvette Cooper
- 5.47 / Public opposition to continuing spending cuts
- 4.68 / Lack of Tory progress in Scotland
- 4.47 / Increasingly unhappy relations with the Liberal Democrats that means they will not not want to form another coalition with the Conservatives in the event of another hung parliament
- 4.37 / Inadequate party funds
- 2.17 / A failure to deliver green policies
Tory members are right to say that "Too much caution from David Cameron in ordering the Tory machine to fight and therefore oust Liberal Democrat MPs" is a bigger danger to our electoral prospects than "Increasingly unhappy relations with the Liberal Democrats that means they will not not want to form another coalition with the Conservatives in the event of another hung parliament". Because of the Lib Dems' unpopularity we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to win back the southern seats that we lost to Paddy Ashdown in 1997. The seventh idea in our Building A Conservative Majority series was quite simply – Show No Mercy to the Liberal Democrats.
I would, personally, worry more about the opposition of The Sun, Mail and other newspapers than those who took part in this survey. One of the more significant changes of the last ten days has been The Sun's relentless attacks on the Government. Newspapers are not as influential as they were but millions of Sun readers are seeing their newspaper portray the Tories as incompetent and out-of-touch.
Finally I'm also a little more worried about "Broken promises on policies like the third runway at Heathrow". I support a third runway at Heathrow but we were very explicit in the last manifesto that we wouldn't build one. We've seen what happened to Nick Clegg over tuition fees. A third runway u-turn would not be on the same scale but it would hurt us in seats under Heathrow flightpaths – especiually as the Lib Dems wouldn't change their policy. Zac Goldsmith got it right in his local newspaper:
"Political integrity is a highly valued but extremely limited commodity, and a betrayal of this sort would destroy what little trust there remains in politics."