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The Eastleigh reaction: Marf and Henry G Manson

March 1st, 2013

Marf thinks it is time to “Hug a Tory”

To Henry the lesson is that many voters still hate the Tories

David Cameron was chosen to lead the Conservative Party in 2005 because he was seen as a winner. Yet he has not won. He may be Prime Minister but he failed to win an election majority, as did Michael Howard and William Hague before him. We have to go back almost 21 years to the last Conservative majority from John Major a man from such a modest background that he would feel completely out of place and with today’s ‘Cameroons’. Major polled the highest number of Conservative votes ever yet remains a strangely peripheral figure in comparison to the shadow cast by Baroness Thatcher.

Cameron was selected in the good times. “Let sunshine rule the day” he proclaimed. The godfather to his children George Osborne was made Shadow Chancellor and both pledged to follow Labour’s spending plans until the financial crash in 2008. Yet the Bullingdon Boys were not ideally suited to preach restraint and austerity to a sceptical nation. A once commanding 20%+ poll lead was blown away and coalition with the Lib Dems ensued. The yellow party lost over half of their support as a consequence and u-turned on a swathe of policies. Yet one thing never changed. Many voters simply cannot stand the Tories.

18 months ago the Institute for Public Policy Research flagged this up. Despite Labour’s ejection after 13 years of government, the Conservative Party was seen as the most toxic party. In a poll of voters by YouGov, 42% said that they would never vote Conservative while only 36% said they’d never vote Liberal Democrat and just 30% would never vote Labour. My guess is that the figures would be even worse for the Tories right now. Which brings us to Eastleigh.

    Every man and his dog will draw different conclusions from the Eastleigh result. Mine is that is shows that even now anti-Tory sentiment remains stronger than anti-Lib Dem feeling. The Tories are still toxic.

Whatever the misgivings people have with the role of the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition, in a number of areas they’d still rather vote for them that the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will struggle in the North precisely because the anti-Tory feeling is so strong. Simply joining the Coalition was an unpardonable betrayal. But in Lib Dem & Conservative battles in the South the yellow team have a real fighting chance of saving seats and if they’re savvy, they will be more confident and assertive with their partners.

Eastleigh showed that despite a whole range of negative factors, voters are still open to voting tactically to keep out the Conservatives. The tactical voting conundrum should be a far greater concern to Conservatives than how to respond to UKIP. It’s what makes me begin to wonder if that blues can ever win a majority again. Rather than harking back to Margaret Thatcher, thinking Tories should perhaps be looking back at John Major in 1992. Even if it pains some of them to do so.

Henry G Manson

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