6.30pm: With a tribute to the people who make politics matter – “the grassroots” – Mark Wallace closes this year’s ConservativeHome Conference. Thank you for tuning in. Now we’re tuning out.
6.20pm: We’ve just put up a video of Lord Ashcroft addressing the conference earlier. You can watch it here.
6.03pm: Mark Reckless reiterates, with added force, one of the motifs of Osborne’s speech earlier: that the Tories are offering an in/out referendum, but that UKIP voters don’t believe it. How can that problem be overcome? Basically, by stripping away any complexities. The referendum, Reckless suggests, should be sold straightforwardly as a choice between in or out – and one that won’t happen should Labour gain power at the next election, which UKIP votes could help bring about. End of.
5.55pm: Understanding is the implicit theme of Iain Martin’s presentation. Tories shouldn’t dismiss UKIP and their support – they should listen to them and try, politely, to respond to any questions and concerns. He cites Ronald Regan as a exemplar; someone who was great at making voters forget their differences. He sums it up with the phrase, and a call for, “generosity of spirit”.
5.50pm: Matthew Goodwin, who co-wrote the excellent Revolt on the Right, may just have made one of the key points of the day. After explaining the demography of UKIP’s support (e.g. those most likely to stick with the party are those that have been most left behind society and all that), he stresses that many of the concerns are cultural rather than straightforwardly economic. In other words, to really appeal to many UKIP supporters, Conservatives shouldn’t dwell on jobs and houses. They should try to address concerns about cultural change and declining traditions.
5.41pm: The first panellist is Ryan Shorthouse, director of Bright Blue, and he kicks off with an exhortation: don’t panic! His reasoning takes two strands. First, he thinks that the “UKIP earthquake is much exaggerated”. Second, he believes that the Tories shouldn’t rush to jump into bed with Farage, not just because that’s unnecessary, but also because it will alienate other potential Tory voters. Instead, the Tories should make a more positive offering to the public, including tax cuts for the low paid.
5.32pm: This just in:
5.30pm: And a spicy ol’ session to end the day with: “How should the Conservatives deal with UKIP?” The chairman: Iain Dale. The speakers: Mark Reckless, Ryan Shorthouse, Iain Martin and Matthew Goodwin.
5.15pm: The final panellist in this session is Prof. Tim Bale. He starts by questioning the notion that party membership is dwindling to naught: it’s certainly less popular than it used to be, but that could both flatter the past (when party associations were little more than dating agencies!) and discolour our view of the future (when parties will almost certainly still have devoted supporters). But, he adds, if membership really is on the way out, then the parties should fight to end that trend, not least because “parties need to be embedded in civil society”. How could that be done? It’s striking how much agreement there is between the speakers. Bale reiterates the idea that membership needs to become, in his words, “more permeable, more of an open network”.
5.08pm: The next speaker, Benedict McAleenan, works in the public relations business, but used to work for that man Carswell thinks so highly of: Grant Shapps. He starts off bluntly: the age of mass membership is over – “we should be asking, what’s next?” So, what is next? McAleenan doesn’t believe that people aren’t interested in politics; more that the parties are erecting barriers to participation. He relates it to supermarkets: “Does any supermarket charge £25 so that you can shop there?” Well, nope. And parties shouldn’t either, reckons McAleenan. Rather than charging people in the hope of restoring an era of mass membership, the Tories should scrap the fees and aim for “mass engagement”.
4.57pm: Finally, we reach a gloomier patch. Carswell makes the case that the Tory party structure is, in many respects, stuck in the 1950s – but “without the mass membership”. He makes the apt comparison that he’s made before: political parties are like HMV, failing to innovate in line with new technologies and new attitudes, and facing bankruptcy. They need to be more like Spotify, convenient and freewheeling. But what does that mean in practice? Carswell, of course, has plenty of ideas, all of them appealing. A proper right to recall MPs? Bring it on.
4.55pm: And yet more cheeriness from Carswell! He says that Grant Shapps is “one of the best Conservative chairmen we’ve had”.
4.50pm: And, Carswell continues, Tories have two reasons, in particular, to be cheerful. First: Ed Miliband. Second: rising support for causes such as civil liberties, euroscepticism, etc.
4.50pm: We’re back with that panel session I mentioned earlier: “Is the age of mass party membership over?” First up is Douglas Carswell. He begins with his advice for every Conservative: “We need to cheer up!” This could be good.
3.20pm: We’ve uploaded Lord Ashcroft’s speech and his slides to ConHome. You can read them here. The conference has split into two workshop sessions. This live-blog will return at 4.45pm, with the panel session “Is the age of mass Party membership over?”
2.57pm: Apologies, a technical flaw (okay, a dead computer battery) meant that I couldn’t cover the rest of that last session. I shall catch up by pasting some tweets from the audience, below, shortly.
2.20pm: Lottie Dexter’s presentation was insightful stuff. Her focus, as befits her position as director of the Million Jobs campaign, was young people and jobs. Apparently, there’ll be some 3 million people able to vote for the first time at the next election – yet, sadly, only 200,000 of these intend to vote Conservative, with 2 million not intending to vote at all. How can you mine this source of potential votes? Dexter says that the young are, increasingly, naturally Conservative. Policies should be made to appeal to them, including further increases to the personal allowance for young people. She also rightly urged the reform of JobCentres – which have become a forgotten, forlorn part of the welfare state.
2.11pm: Oh, here’s what the panel looks like:
2.11pm: And that’s the Ashcroft presentation over. The next panel session – what should be in the next Conservative manifesto? – is about to begin. Its speakers: Lottie Dexter, Isabel Hardman, Mark Littlewood and Dominic Raab. As with the last panel session, I’ll summarise each speakers’ presentations once they’ve finished them. Look to the updates above.
2.00pm: Lord Ashcroft’s findings are now available, in full, on his website. The results summary is here, or you can keep up with my bullet-points below.
1.40pm: “I’m here to tell you,” begins Lord Ashcroft, “what is really going on.” I shall summarise some of his main observations and findings in the bullet-points below, as they come:
- Lord Ashcroft begins with his survey of 4,000 Europe election voters, which he wrote about on ConservativeHome this morning. You can read that post here. Its main finding is probably that, in Lord Ashcroft’s words, “As for next May, only half of [those who voted UKIP in the European elections] expect to stay with UKIP. One fifth already say they will go back to the Tories…”
- And then on to Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 26,000 voters in 26 of the most marginal seats in the country.
- He reminds us that all of the data from this marginal poll will be made available at LordAshcroftPolls.com
- And he also reminds us that “this is a snapshot, not a prediction”.
- There is a 10-point lead for Labour across the battleground as a whole. LAB: 40 per cent. CON: 30 per cent. LIB: 7 per cent. UKIP: 20 per cent. That 20 per cent score for UKIP is pretty eye-catching.
- If the question is finessed so that respondents think about how they would vote when considering their own constituency, the figures become. LAB: 41 per cent. CON: 29 per cent. LIB: 8 per cent. UKIP: 18 per cent.
- That represents a 6.5 per cent swing from the Tories to Labour from the last election. The swing across the country, from Lord Ashcroft’s wider national polling, is 5.5 per cent.
- This would score an extra 83 seats for Labour, and a majority.
- Lord Ashcroft emphasises that there’s a lot of variation between seats. Some of the marginals have Con-Lab swings of 4 per cent, others of 8 per cent. In some seats, the UKIP score is in single figures. In others, they’re pushing Labour and the Tories for top place.
- Intriguingly, 13 per cent of Labour’s vote in the marginals comes from those who voted Lib Dem in 2010. Labour support in the marginals is twice as likely to come from former Lib Dem voters than former Tory voters.
- As for UKIP support in the marginals, 25 per cent of UKIP supporters voted Tory in 2010. 16 per cent voted Labour. 30 per cent didn’t vote.
- 41 per cent of Con-UKIP defectors rule out returning to the Tories.
- 58 per cent of Lib Dem-Lab defectors rule out returning.
- Overall, 49 per cent of respondents “definitely won’t vote Conservative”.
- 56 per cent of people think that the economy will do well for the country; 40 per cent think it’s going badly.
- 59 per cent of people think that the economy will do well for their family; 37 per cent think it’s going badly.
- Outside of London, the voters who are most optimistic about the economy are the constituents of… Ed Balls!
- Only two-thirds of Labour voters would prefer to have Ed Miliband as Prime Minister than David Cameron.
- Only 24 per cent of UKIP voters would prefer Miliband to Cameron.
- Only four-fifths of current Tory supporters reckon a Tory majority is the best outcome after the next election. There’s a fair amount of support for a Coalition.
- 30 per cent of UKIP voters would prefer a Tory majority after the next election. 27 per cent would prefer a Labour majority.
1.29pm: The lunch break is almost over, and we await the findings of Lord Ashcroft’s marginals polling. While you’re waiting, ConHome’s own Andrew Gimson has sketched Osborne’s speech. You can read that here.
12.30pm: As we enjoy our sandwiches, here’s a small side of tweets from ConHome folk:
12.30pm: The panel session ended with short Q&A. Some points that were made by the speakers:
- According to Peter Franklin, the Tories need to say: we want to see house prices come down.
- Personal stories, such as those used by Robert Halfon earlier today, are a good way of communicating your message.
- A ladder would be a good logo for the Tories, reckons Tim Montgomerie, but it needs something more. After all, people are worried about what the Tories will do when people fall off the ladder.
- Tories need to remember that the average income is about £24,000. Sometimes, when they talk of the middle classes, it sounds as though they’re talking about people on £60, £70, £80k.
It’s an hour-long lunch break now. One thing that’s stood out so far is the influence of Robert Halfon. He made the opening speech of the day, and most other speakers have either directly referenced him or indirectly echoed him since.
12.16pm: Matthew Elliott’s prescription was, basically, for an authentic message. But he meant this in a broad sense. The authenticity springs from everything from the substance behind the message (e.g. if the Tories are painting themselves as tax cutters then they should cut taxes!) to the actual messenger (e.g. Liam Fox and John Redwood might be more believable salesman for the Tories’ referendum pledge). Fundamentally, Elliott said, the Conservatives need a coherent vision on which a message can be based.
12.05pm: Tim Montgomerie starts off by saying “I’m going to be pessimistic” – uh-oh. His pessimism springs mainly from the rise of UKIP. He’s not sure whether that party can survive its own internal contradictions, but he is sure that they will gain at least 7 or 8 per cent of the vote at the next General Election. How should the Tories respond? By rejecting libertarianism, he says: the major complaint that voters have about the Conservatives is that they leave people alone in tough times. Instead, the Conservatives should stand as the Party of Change, relentlessly working to bring people on in life. Build more houses!
11.55am: Nusrat Ghani, the PPC for Wealden, reads an email she received from a potential constituent. How can she believe in things such as health and eduction, he asked, when the Tories are devoted to the “preservation of property, privilege and wealth”? It is this perception that Consevatives should look to break down, Ghani argued. She echoed Robert Halfon’s earlier call for a “moral mission”, by saying that the party should “claim a higher purpose”.
11.35am: Peter Franklin’s theme is, as he puts it, “the foundations of the middle-class crumbling”. Is it any wonder that the Tories are struggling to secure a majority, and voters are turning to protest parties, when the middle-classes are being brought low by everything from stagnating wages to higher student debt? He previews ConservativeHome’s own manifesto, of which he is the author, as a document that will look to deal with these problems.
11.35am: We have moved straight into a panel session dealing with the question: what should the Conservative message be in 2015? It’s chair is Mark Wallace. Its speakers are Peter Franklin, Tim Montgomerie, Nusrat Ghani and Matthew Elliott. I shall summarise their presentations, one by one, once they’ve finished speaking. In the meantime, here’s a photo:
11.32am: Osborne’s speech is now up on ConHome. You can read the whole thing here.
11.30am: The Chancellor answers a few questions before rushing off to campaign in Newark. Among those answers, one on UKIP: “There will not be a pact.”
11.25am: And the heavy emphasis on an EU referendum continues into Osborne’s peroration. He paints the choice at the next election as: “A vote on Europe with us – or more Europe and no say under Labour.”
11.25am: The Chancellor is setting out the lessons from yesterday’s result. Understandably, this means a heavy emphasis on Europe, from restrictions on benefits for EU migrants to the necessity of an in/out referendum. On the latter, he says he “understand(s) why the public are sceptical of politicians making promises”, but that the Tories have to convince them they will deliver.
11.18am: Unsurprisingly, Osborne says that the economy will be at the heart of the Tories’ election campaign. It’s also at the heart of his attacks on Labour in this speech. They’re the party of “economic decline”, he says.
11.10am: Laughter as Osborne quips at the BBC’s expense: you could sense “their disappointment” at the outbreak of Tory unity yesterday. Soon after, he gets on to a more serious point: that this week’s elections showed that the Tories still need to do more to reach out to new voters.
11.10am: One of the most reverberant passages in Osborne’s speech, so far, is his full-throated attack on the “out-dated” Police Federation, as well as his praise for Theresa May for taking them on. Remember, May’s speech to last year’s ConHome conference was regarded as a platform for any leadership aspirations she may have, so it’s striking to hear her name mentioned today. Other ministers who get favourable name-checks: Gove, IDS and Hunt.
11.07am: Here’s what the Chancellor looks like in FuzzyPhoneCameraVision, by the way:
11.05am: We shall have a full copy of the Chancellor’s speech up on the site shortly, so I will only describe it in brush-strokes. After a kind eulogy about ConservativeHome, he’s moved on to – surprise, surprise – deficit reduction.
11.01am: After a shorter passage about the third of his themes, Halfon finishes with a telling story about a voter he met. This voter grew up in a Labour family, and was used to voting Labour himself, but is now voting Conservative. Why? Because “the Tories are for people who work”. Our keynote speaker, George Osborne, is about to come to the stage…
11.00am: Our #SecuringAMajority hashtag is now trending in the UK, apparently:
10.55am: And now it’s on to counter-intuitiveness. The Tories, Halfon reckons, should become the party of redistribution, full employment, affordable housing and so on. His point is that these ends do not require left-wing means. Take “redistribution”. The £billions raised by cutting the 50p tax rate (a policy Labour opposed, of course) could be used to raise the personal allowance for low-paid workers even higher (another policy that Labour ain’t too keen on). Only by such measures will the Tories appeal to those voters required for securing a majority.
10.50am: His passage on the need for a “moral mission” is powerful stuff. He begins punchily: “I admire the Labour Party”. And he goes on to clarify: he admires their mission to support the least well-off, not their methods. The Tories need a similarly clear mission. But what should it be? Sovereignty? Freedom? Something like that. No, says Halfon. The Tories already have a mission – and that’s aspiration. It should become inextricably associated with the party, including by making the party logo a ladder.
10.45am: Halfon is well into his address now. The Conservatives should focus on three things, he says, which he is about to go on to detail:
- Moral mission.
10.40am: ConHome’s editor, Paul Goodman, starts the day with a few words of introduction. “We’re meeting,” he says, “at an interesting time.” He hands over to Robert Halfon, an MP who has plenty of thoughts on the theme of the day: how to secure a majority.
10.30am: The ConservativeHome conference – Securing a Majority – begins in central London shortly. We’ll be live-blogging proceedings here.