WRONG modernisationWhat do voters think would happen if a Tory government was elected at the next election and it governed on its own without the need for help from the Liberal Democrats?

A YouGov poll of nearly 2,000 voters for today’s Times finds that voters expect it would produce a tougher approach to welfare, immigration and Europe. It also thought a further reorganisation of the NHS was more likely and that if anyone got tax cuts, it would be the rich, not the poor.

Here are the key results:

If the Conservatives governed on their own:

  • 66 per cent think cuts to welfare would be more likely. Six per cent think they’d be less likely. Similarly 44 per cent think the unemployed would get less help. 18 per cent think the opposite.
  • 17 per cent think it would be more likely that taxes would be cut for the poor. 43 per cent think they’d be less likely. In contrast 45 per cent think tax cuts for the rich would be more likely. 21 per cent think they’d be less likely.
  • 43 per cent think that – without the Liberal Democrats – a Tory government would be more likely to reorganise the NHS. 15 per cent think it would be less likely.
  • 48 per cent think a Tory majority government would take a tougher approach to immigration. 14 per cent think a less tough approach is more likely.
  • 38 per cent think business would get more help. 17 per cent think business would get less help.

In other words, the poll finds that expectations of the Tories are more or less what you might have predicted before Cameron ever began his modernisation programme. Eight years of decontamination have produced almost no serious change to the Tory brand. Why?

  • It’s always going to be hard to change long-term perceptions of any brand. It’s particularly difficult to reassure sceptical voters when difficult cuts to government expenditure have been necessary.
  • Second, Cameron pursued the wrong kind of modernisation. Rather than focus on Sun and Mail readers, he focused on Guardian readers. Early modernisation was largely about climate change rather than energy bills. He worried about the gender and ethnicity of candidates to the exclusion of regional and professional background. Not only was this the wrong kind of modernisation, it was never pursued particularly seriously. It seemed fake to many voters – largely because it was.
  • Many Tory MPs have never invested in any kind of modernisation. Some still focus on the old Tory issues of Europe, crime, immigration and tax to the exclusion of issues like housing, low pay and anti-social behaviour.
  • Cameron’s Liberal Democrat ‘partners’ never miss an opportunity to say that every half-kindly thing that the Coalition does is down to them – that they humanise what would otherwise be a red-in-tooth-and-claw Tory government. I address this Clegg-led recontamination of the Tory brand in my Times (£) column today.

The kind of Tory Party that Cameron should have built is the one that is being set out by Robert Halfon on ConservativeHome this week. You do not have to agree with every specific policy he proposes to recognise that concern about petrol prices, poverty pay and vocational education move the party in the right direction. His fourth piece – today – is on utility bills.

Voters believe that the Tories are most likely to mend the economy, but they fear that the economy will be mended for the already strong and prosperous. The Halfon agenda recognises that the party needs to convince voters that it has a plan that will ensure all proceeds of growth are shared widely.