Sunday, 16 September 2007

"Funny, all of my mates are Tory ... ."

Look, this is not an up-to-the-minute blog, an "ooh, look who I just saw chatting to Ed Balls at the Red Lion" kind of news blog or one of those "flame the hell out of every other dumb writer on the Net" kind of blogs, the sort that allowed the formerly green-ink writers of past ages to suddenly flower forth on our laptop screens. It is slow. Very.

So that is why I have only just read this piece of work commissioned by Michael Ashcroft during the last election. No doubt it was well covered at the time - in fact, this blog has a reasonable stab at it (better than the Swing Voter can manage anyway, with children due to wake him in 8 hours time). For me, it is interesting as a long piece by a Tory reflecting on Tory unpopularity. He asks some pretty brutal questions, and allows some pretty brutal quotes to come out, like:

You look at Howard and think 'Nah'. You wouldn't want to be at the UN and think 'there goes our leader'.

Anyway, the sort of brutal analysis he allows is: ask voters' opinion about a policy, without telling them who proposed it; ask another group whilst revealing that it was a Tory idea. The effect is 'dramatic'; net agreement (agree minus disagree) slips from 55% to 43%, whilst doing the same thing with Labour made no difference. He also reveals the breakdown of who votes Tory. Only social class AB produces a Tory lead, and only the age groups over 55 years old. Tactical voting always went against the Tories, and people wanting to 'give a bloody nose' to the Government would quail at the thought that the Conservatives might thereby win, saying to themselves "what the hell have I done?".

People's views of the Tories came straight out of the standard stereotype. A big lead for "Stuck in the past and out of touch" and "Care more for well-offs than have-nots". A massive deficit for "Opportunity for all whatever their background". So, although on Policies they did not do so badly, seen leading on immigration and breaking-even on matters like crime and tax, the basic view of them was still the same - nasty, interested in and peopled by the elite.

The attitudes of Tory voters themselves also produced some revealing insights. For me, the most salient fact in the whole report came on page 27. There it shows that 55% of voters think that Britain was a better country to live in 20 or 30 years ago. However, the figure for Conservatives is 67%, 'miles away' from younger voters and AB's. And while 38% of all voters thought the Tory party was on the right track to getting back to power, 79% of their convinced voters thought so. Blowing the immigration dog-whistle, meanwhile, only resonated with social groups that generally never vote Tory - it was a big nothing.

My first big bet was on the 1997 election. Working in bubble of the City, all the suits wandered around scoffing at the Polls, hardly believing any change could be happening - after all, "all my mates are Tory". So the market price on Labour seats was tastily low (340 offered?) and even a penniless graduate could afford a fiver a seat. You can still see some of the same self-insulating bubbles in the blogosphere - nice (or not so nice) communities of same-minded people, frothing one another into the same self-righteous lather about the current state of the world and probably possessed of the same delusion that everyone thinks their way - and possibly possessing the same bemusement about why they are not more popular.

So it's all a bit depressing for the policy wonks - no matter how well-written the policy documents (and I found the latest one on crime eminently reasonable on most issues), the question of their getting back into power will be determined by incredibly stubborn impressions of what Tories are like, impressions that were probably cast in stone by the early 1990's. I find Tory unpopularity a mystery. I don't get it, even though I half-share it. I used to think Cameron was the answer to this - he did not have the Hague-IDS-Howard look that made you want to say "god I hope you lose" (Kinnock had it too). Right now, not so sure - particularly if he appears with Boorish Johnson anywhere. For a while they might have been Labour 1994, but for now they seem to be Labour 1985, and still needing a major stand-off with their unmentionables to shake the image.

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