Archive for the 'Tories' Category


The Temperate Desert

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

YouGov Left Right

Antifrank asks who will appeal best to centrist voters?

The centre ground of politics used to be very crowded.  And with good reason.  Roughly half the electorate sit in the middle stratum of electoral geology.  In a YouGov poll taken just after the election, 13% described themselves as slightly left of centre, 19% described themselves as centre, 14% described themselves as slightly right of centre and a further 23% didn’t know where to place themselves (presumably they would regard themselves as having mixed left and right views).  Elections will continue to be won and lost among these voters.  Either they will be met on their ground or they will be persuaded to move onto different ground.

Public perception

YouGov regularly asks the public to place parties on a left-right spectrum.  The results up to July last year are shown in the graphic above.

The public in aggregate, incidentally, see themselves as pretty much in the dead centre.  Up to now, the public in aggregate haven’t regarded the Labour party as being as leftwing as they have seen the Conservatives as being rightwing.

The empty centre

7 May 2015 has left the centre ground looking like a wasteland.  The Lib Dems were reduced from 57 to 8 MPs, with relatively few seats even looking like plausible targets for 2020.  The Conservatives long ago ditched the green crap.  And despite Ed Miliband having aimed to engineer a move in the political centre ground towards the left, the reaction of the Labour party membership in the Labour leadership campaign has been to canter further leftwards in pursuit of a real alternative to austerity.  For a group of voters who are supposedly assiduously and obsessively courted, centrist voters are lacking obvious representation right now, particularly those on the centre left.

In the post-election opinion poll referred to above, 31% of the public thought that Labour was slightly left of centre or centre (exactly the same percentage that thought Labour was fairly leftwing or very leftwing), but 44% of the public thought that Labour should aim to be slightly left of centre or centre.  Among those who expressed an opinion, by a margin of nearly 2:1, the public thought that the next Labour leader should try to take the Labour party towards the centre politically rather than take it towards the left (more recent polling has been more equivocal on this last point, however).  There is nothing obvious in any of the polling that suggests that the public wants Labour to turn to the left.  Labour party members seem to believe that they know better.

That said, winning over these voters is not as simple as just plonking yourself as closely as possible to them.  At the last election the Conservatives gathered a greater share of the vote than it had managed since 1992, yet they were the furthest distant from the average member of the public of Labour, the Lib Dems and themselves.  The voters take many things into account other than how much they identify with policy.

This may sound like good news for a Labour party that is exiting stage left.  It is not.  In May, those other things led to the voters decisively preferring the Conservatives despite their greater ideological distance from the public in aggregate.  That decisive preference in favour of the Conservatives will get still stronger, all other things being equal, if Labour withdraw further from the bulk of the voters.

This time around, the other relevant considerations may well have included the quality of the main party leaders, economic credibility and the wish to have a stable government.  We may also have seen some voters deciding to stick with known quantities.

The relevant considerations in 2020 may be different.  Right now it seems entirely possible that all of those will continue to weigh heavily on voters’ minds.  Becoming more ideologically distant from the voters would only make Labour’s challenge harder.

The hopefuls

Nature abhors a vacuum.  Who is going to fill that gap?  The answer isn’t obvious.

The Lib Dems are ideologically close to the average voter.  They will hope to profit from any move to the fringes by Labour while being able to attack the Conservatives in government.  But the Lib Dems’ closeness to the public’s views did not result in the public giving them their support in May.  And the hammering they received will make it harder to get that support back where it counts.  Voters who are motivated by choosing a government will not linger over the possibility of voting for them, new leader and new direction notwithstanding.  The Lib Dems will only gain votes either by persuading voters that it is a costfree choice or by getting voters to conclude that both of the two main parties have drifted too far from the centre.  Even then, such voters might well just decide to abstain.

After their experiences of government, the Lib Dems may wish to pitch themselves as a party of opposition.  Indeed, they have already taunted Labour after the Welfare Bill fiasco with the tagline “Be part of the real Opposition”.  This may be effective at picking up protest votes (though there is heavy competition for these now) and the votes of those who live in safe constituencies.  Centrist voters in marginals who want to choose the next government will, however, be looking for something more constructive.

Can Labour offer them something more constructive?  If Labour move leftwards, they will need to persuade a sizeable section of voters – from opposition – that their more hardline critique is worthy of trust in government and they will need to do so without frightening a similar sized section of voters into the arms of the Conservative party.  Labour seem likely to embark on this strategy.  I don’t fancy their chances if they do.

A different strategy might have been to offer a broad tent based around themes that all strands of left and centrist opinion could rally under.  None of the three mainstream candidates for Labour leader have been able to articulate such themes and the opportunity is going begging.  It seems unlikely now that the Labour party will take that chance in the next few years.

If the Labour party is not going to appeal to centrist and centre-left voters, preferring to broadcast a hard left message, might a breakaway party take up the slack?  All things are possible but the prospect looks unlikely and past precedent is offputting.  Establishing a new national party needs a clear message, big names, organisation, nerve and luck.  Labour moderates do not seem to have any of these right now.  The SDP was stronger on almost all of these counts in the early 1980s and still it ultimately failed to break the mould.  Only two of the eight Lib Dem MPs were in the SDP.  They are outnumbered by Conservative MPs with an SDP past.

Speaking of which, can the Conservatives extend their advantage with centrist voters?  Unlike Labour, they certainly want to try.  The summer budget showed George Osborne gleefully trying on progressive clothes for size.

The Conservatives face a different problem, which is that they have long been seen as further from the centre than either Labour or the Lib Dems, as can be seen from the diagram above.  Changing longterm perceptions takes a lot of doing.  At a time when the government is undertaking extensive spending cuts, are they really going to be able to achieve this?  Also, this Parliament is going to be dominated by the referendum on EU membership.  It would be highly surprising if traditional Conservative rightwingers are not heard at great length in this process, undermining any Tory attempts to colonise the middle ground further.

So far as the Conservatives are concerned, in the short term the question is a bit of a red herring.  They don’t need centrist voters to identify with them.  They only need them to continue voting for them in preference to other parties.  Enough of these voters gave them their support on 7 May, however unenthusiastically.  They would settle for that in 2020 as well.

In the longer term, however, we are looking at an unstable political landscape where the voters must choose between parties with prospectuses that do not enthuse them and a party with a prospectus that they do not believe will stand a chance of being implemented.  This cannot last indefinitely.  Sooner or later, the gap will be filled.



Why we won’t be hearing much from the Tories this summer

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Notice there’s been nothing from the blue side re-Mid Staffs

Probably the most successful Lynton Crosby message in the run-up to May 7th was the warning of “confusion and chaos” if Labour was returned.

It was this, I’d suggest that helped get the marginal CON supporters out to vote and UKIP switchers back into the fold in the constituencies where it mattered.

The Tories have learned that simple easy to understand messages that resonate and a strict communication discipline can pay dividends.

Now, if as seems likely the above Tweet is correct, the Tories are having a quiet summer so all the focus on Labour’s leadership race.

    What is very clear is that the Burnham campaign’s effort to get Corbyn the nominations to be on the ballot was a total misjudgement. It says a lot about their and his political abilities.

Meanwhile it will be the evening of September 12th, in the hours after the LAB victor is announced, that Mid Staffs will feature once again in the blue rhetoric if Burnham is the winner.

Mike Smithson


Meanwhile leadership turmoil isn’t confined to LAB. It’s not all sweetness & light in the blue team

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Osborne, the new betting favourite, accused of briefing war against the mayor

It was inevitable that when David Cameron said before the election that he wouldn’t seek a third term that this would, at some stage, trigger off media interest and speculation about succession in the Tory party.

The big difference with Labour is that the Tory battle could be about who succeeds as PM.

Everybody knows that Boris has a big interest here and in recent weeks, particularly since the budget, Osborne has moved much more into the frame. On some betting markets he has been favourite. When the Chancellor made his budget speech earlier in the month he took a humorous swing at Boris something that has not gone down well with the occupant of London’s City Hall.

Several papers have picked this up including the Telegraph whose political editor, Peter Dominiczak, writes:-

“..allies” of Mr Johnson claimed that David Cameron, Mr Osborne and Theresa May, the Home Secretary, are attempting to “humiliate” Mr Johnson and destroy his chances of becoming prime minister.“He’s trying to neuter Boris before he’s even got going”

They claimed that Mrs May and Mr Osborne are orchestrating a bid to “cut Mr Johnson down to size” and that the plot is tacitly condoned by Mr Cameron.

The big problem for Boris is that Cameron can be very helpful to the Chancellor in all sorts of ways. Osborne plays a huge part in ministerial appointments and, no doubt, will have big say in what job Boris gets after he steps down as mayor next May. Osborne, also, is likely to be told of Dave’s plans well before Johnson and Cameron can control the timing to help his chancellor.


Antifrank: Hanging tough – the Conservative intake of 2015

Saturday, July 18th, 2015


Antifrank looks at the new members of the Tory parliamentary party.

Despite relatively few seats changing hands in May, more than a fifth of Conservative MPs – 74 in total – were not in the last Parliament.  They will have a big influence on the dynamics of the Conservative party in government.  What do they look like?  Well, here they are:

I’ve ploughed through MP websites, interviews and newspaper articles to find out more about them.  In the course of this, I’ve seen more Labradors than is healthy for any normal man to look at.

Less than 30% of the new Conservatives are women, compared with 60% of the new Labour intake.  Assessing racial and sexual diversity is more fraught (not least because not all candidates’ self-identification is explicit) so I have not performed a headcount, but the Conservatives do seem to have proportionately more MPs from ethnic minorities than previously.

The biographies of many of the new MPs look familiar.  Much has been made of Scott Mann, the Cornish postman, but he is an exception rather than the rule.  At least 17 of the new Conservative MPs have previously earned their corn as political professionals and I expect that is an undercount owing to the reticence of some candidates to advertise the fact.  I count 11 business owners (some CVs are a little hazy) and 13 lawyers of various stripes.  Seven new MPs have backgrounds in PR, communications and events management.  Four new MPs had military careers.

The contrast with the background of new Labour MPs is instructive.  Few of the new Conservative MPs have a public sector background.  There are two doctors and a nurse, a police officer and two government lawyers, two teachers and the four ex-military men.  No new Conservative MP advertises his or her previous main job was as a charity worker or official, though many draw attention to their charitable work (which in some cases is very impressive indeed).  For the new Conservative MPs, charitable work is something to be done when giving back to the community while for new Labour MPs, working in the charitable sector is a normal career.  We will no doubt see this difference in world view on the floor of the House of Commons in the coming years.

What of their opinions?  For Conservative MPs the big topic for the next few years will be the referendum on membership of the EU.  David Cameron was extremely effective in getting these candidates to rally around the policy of having a referendum, but will he be able to bring him with them once the renegotiation is concluded?  The new MPs don’t so much divide between Europhile and Eurosceptic as between those who avoid talking about the subject, those who give their views when prompted and those who won’t shut up about it.

For some of the new MPs, maybe eight to ten, it seems likely that campaigning in the referendum for Out will outweigh party loyalties.  They include a former leader of UKIP and the campaign organiser for the Referendum party in 1997.  Several of the new intake have signed up for Conservatives for Britain, a Eurosceptic campaign group.  None of the new MPs rebelled on the vote about public information during the purdah period during the referendum campaign (one seriously considered doing so), so they’re keeping their powder dry for now.

I have found only one new MP, Flick Drummond, who so far has identified herself as pro-Europe. However, I suspect that those who have stayed quiet to date will generally follow a party line when the time comes.  The broad mass of the new MPs are content either to take the “negotiate then decide” line or to take the line that they would vote Out now but are open to persuasion.  But the awkward squad has received reinforcements.

What of the wider politics of the intake?  This was neatly summed up by Chris Green, the new MP for Bolton West:

“As Paul Goodman has previously highlighted, the Party has the Soho and the Easterhouse modernisation movements.  Almost invariably the Soho element costs us support in Bolton West and the Easterhouse element wins us support.”

Both groups are well-represented in the new intake (I think we can take it that Chris Green sees himself as being in the second group), though there appear to be more acolytes of George Osborne than Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson.  But he might also have mentioned the traditional small c conservative MPs, who are perhaps most numerous of all.  These MPs, temperamentally similar to David Cameron and who would no doubt see their role as MPs as part of the Big Society, would be readily recognisable to previous generations of Conservative MPs.  The Conservative party, as you would expect from the name, is not changing all that fast.

The single strongest theme among the new MPs’ campaign literature, heavily encouraged by Conservative Central Office, is a focus on local topics.  Nearly all the new MPs majored on plans for their local constituencies.  Quite a few of the new MPs have commented almost exclusively on these.  Craig Williams, MP for Cardiff North, explains why:

“You get the occasional person who says, “Why on earth are you banging on about potholes in your leaflet, that’s nothing to do with Westminster?” Well, it’s because it matters to the resident of Cardiff North.”

This has worked brilliantly for getting these MPs elected (the Conservatives have learned much from the Lib Dems), but this may cause problems in the future.  Far too many MPs have prioritised superfast broadband in their constituency for the Government to sideline this and many have named the improvement of local transport infrastructure, which is laudable but expensive in these straitened times.  Amanda Solloway has already had to express her disappointment at the postponement of the electrification of Midlands Mainline.  Others will also be disappointed.  The government is going to need to draw up strategies for implementing the new MPs’ tactics for getting elected.  It is unclear whether it has realised that yet.

The challenges for David Cameron of getting any repeal of the Hunting Act through are clear.  Several of the new intake are explicitly opposing it.

Who to look out for in the new intake?  Some names are already very familiar in senior Conservative circles.  The Mayor of London’s team has swept into Westminster.  Boris Johnson’s deputies, Kit Malthouse and Victoria Borwick will both make an impression (I’m taking it as read that everyone is keeping an eye out for Boris Johnson).  Oliver Dowden is one of the few new MPs who arguably took a step down in government circles by becoming a Conservative backbencher, having previously been David Cameron’s chief of staff.  He is unlikely to stay there for long.  James Cartlidge has already been added to David Cameron’s team for preparing for Prime Minister’s Questions.  Given the importance of this, he is presumably marked for early promotion.

Of those who are not already insiders, Johnny Mercer stands out as a gifted natural communicator.  His maiden speech justly won acclaim and it was no one-off.  He has the direct and incisive English of a soldier and clear thoughts to communicate with it.  The Conservatives will be fools if they do not make full use of him early on: he looks like a star in the making.  On the right of the party, Chris Green can express his views clearly and vividly, as shown above.  Andrea Jenkyns, who defeated Ed Balls, is uncategorisable and doesn’t look likely to be shy to voice her opinion.

As a general theme, there look to be a lot of forthright characters in the new Conservative intake.  And this new intake, like the 2010 intake, look unlikely to be particularly biddable.  With such a small majority, the government is going to need to accept defeats from time to time as a normal part of business.  It looks set to be a lively Parliament.



On fox-hunting a reminder from the SNP of the tight parliamentary situation

Monday, July 13th, 2015

LAB by-election leaflet 2009

But won’t this reinforce the case for EVEL?

This is how the Speccie’s Isabel Hardman sums up the situation:-

“..The result may still work politically for both parties in one sense: in Scotland of course the headline ‘SNP stops Tories relaxing hunting ban’ works beautifully for Nicola Sturgeon’s party. But in England a headline saying ‘SNP stops Tories relaxing hunting ban’ will also help the party if it wishes to stir up more emotion in favour of English votes for English laws. However, some proponents of relaxing the ban would rather that no vote took place unless the Tories were certain of winning it: they believe that such defeats expend the very valuable political capital they have built. This was their argument in the last Parliament: that they were happy to avoid a vote if it meant avoiding a defeat. Now it looks as though they may be set for a defeat they can’t avoid.”

Mike Smithson


Why you should be backing Jeremy Hunt as next PM

Monday, June 29th, 2015

slip 2

A betting slip from a few days ago.

Despite their very best efforts, Labour wasn’t able to weaponise the NHS to their advantage or damage the Tories on the NHS in the election campaign (nor in the run up to the election.) The NHS is an issue that has been traditionally perceived to be one of Labour’s strongest areas, Labour’s failure to make the NHS an election issue says a lot about Hunt’s abilities as a Minister and to deal with his opponents & the media, something which is a pre-requisite for any successful party leader.

At the time of writing, the best price you can get on Jeremy Hunt as next Prime Minister is 50/1 with Corals, when Sajid Javid’s best price is 14/1, then in my opinion, there’s something wrong with Hunt’s price, as I think both should be similarly priced and Javid’s price is about right.

Another advantage for Hunt is, that the NHS is one of the very few government departments that has its budget ring-fenced from cuts, and is expected to receive increased funding, so whilst other ministers struggle with departmental spending cuts, Hunt’s department, which is arguably the most high profile public service government department, won’t be dealing with such issues, which should theoretically help him politically.

If Andy Burnham, as expected, does become the next Labour leader, then Hunt can point to his his record vis-à-vis Burnham why the Tories should elect him leader. The fact that Andy Burnham couldn’t use the NHS to Labour’s advantage, especially after the widely criticised Lansley reforms, is a story for another thread. No wonder a few weeks ago, Jeremy Hunt publicly declared that he wanted Andy Burnham to become Labour leader.



The most important result on May 7th

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Why David Cameron might be grateful to Mark Reckless defecting

Whilst it might be accurate to say every constituency result on May the 7th was important, the result in Rochester & Strood might be the one that has most impact in this parliament. Anything that helps, to borrow LBJ’s maxim, about keeping the Eurosceptics inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside pissing in, is good for the Tories, Cameron and the continued life of this government.

Given the way the scheduled In/Out referendum has dominated events since the election (and will continue to do so, even after the result, particularly if it is a small victory for IN) and the smallness of his majority, defections to UKIP or scandal would be the major causes for that majority to be wiped out, as the health of Tory MPs in recent years has been exceptionally good (it is nearly a decade since the last Tory MP died of natural causes whilst in office, and only one in the last sixteen years.)

The chances of further defections to UKIP were reduced by Mark Reckless losing, and not only did he lose, but it was a very comfortable victory for the Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst, I’m not sure many MPs will want to join Mark Reckless in potentially being a minor footnote in history, pour encourager les autres as they say, particularly if the current contretemps in UKIP end in Douglas Carswell leaving UKIP.

The odds on the year of the next General Election are available here, 2020 is at 2/5.




Boris reminds us once again why the normal rules of politics don’t apply to him

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Last night it was reported

Boris Johnson’s relationship with the capital’s black cab trade has become further troubled after the Sun and Daily Mail newspapers released a video showing the mayor of London on his bicycle telling a taxi driver “to f*ck off and die – and not in that order”.

The exchange in Islington, north London, was caught on camera by a passerby.

The driver, one of many black cab operators furious at the way Transport for London, overseen by the mayor, has allowed Uber drivers to undermine their trade shouted at Johnson: “You’re one of them mate. That’s what you are. One of them.”

The footage shows Johnson replying: “Why don’t you f*ck off and die, why don’t you f*ck off and die – and not in that order.”

The cabbie then drives away yelling: “Yeah bollocks, I hope you die.”

If most other politicians had done this, we would be writing their political obituaries this afternoon, but Boris can get away with this, just compare and contrast the reaction when Andrew Mitchell said pleb to the Downing Street police officers.

It is things like this that encapsulates Boris’ popularity, that other politicians just don’t have, and whilst I expect someone other than Boris will be the next Tory leader, it makes me reluctant to rule him out entirely. If the Tories are behind in the polls at the time of the Tory leadership election, I suspect we’ll see polling that Boris as leader gives the Tories a lead/the largest boost of all the contenders, as we saw in the last parliament, partly because of incidents like this.

The only way this incident could have been any more Boris was if he swore at the taxi driver in Latin. Given that he read Classics at Oxford, I’m sure Boris would have studied Catullus 16 and could have found inspiration from that opus.