And now long overdue thank-yous to a couple of Tories.
Thanks to Anthony Wells, who, I think, is political secretary to Michael Howard. He linked to my post asking Labour voters what it would take to get them to put a cross in the Conservative box. Thanks are also overdue to Backword Dave who drew it to Anthony’s attention. It pains me to admit that I admire Anthony for tackling this. He’s obviously come a long way already to get to where he is, but I suspect he’s going to go a lot further if he continues to be so savvy.
Now I am going to be cheeky and tell them where they are going wrong.
No matter how much Conservatives try to persuade smartypants urban types like the PooterGeek crowd that they back the sorts of open, radical, meritocratic, and permissive policies we seem to like; we know in our bones that the Tories cannot implement them because the base of their support is the Stannah stairlift, waxed jacket, string-’em-up brigade.
More than one reply to my question brought up the subject of massive EU farming subsidies, for example. Right-leaning free traders and hardcore Europhobes might support their removal, but the Conservatives know that solid Tory rural voters would disappear if the party threatened to withdraw their handouts. The British farming lobby might not burn sheep like its French counterpart, but the Conservative Party might as well try to say no to a knife-wielding junkie as refuse Mr and Mrs Barbour their fix. This is rational. It would make no sense to alienate reliable Countryside Alliance-type supporters in the hope of appealing to people who are, by definition, turncoats.
Both Anthony Wells and Iain Murray have (commendably) tried to work out what it is people don’t like about the Tories, but I think they are both doomed. When you keep getting turned down, the mirror is rarely the best place to look for the cause of your problem. As an outsider, I’d say that the public memory of the Conservative Party in power is stained by three things:
1) the Poll Tax—not so much a policy as a self-administered ritual sword,
2) the damage Thatcher(ism) did to public services—ordinary people do not trust the Tories with the NHS or schools,
3) Europe—the British don’t like the EU, but not as much Conservatives wish (and the ones who truly hate the EU are tempted by the UKIP).
Changing the name of the party would be a good idea—for once, I’m not being sarky—and, much as I sneer at ideology, if you adopted and promoted a consistent set of policies built around what the focus groupies would call your “core values” of freedom, choice, and personal responsibility that would help. Paradoxically, your current efforts to be popular on all the big issues are preventing you from being consistent; in aggregate the majority is always inconsistent, but you needn’t be. There’s still an awkward tension between, for example, your attitude to the market and your attitude to the family, your authoritarian approach to law and order and your professed commitment to personal freedom.
A deeper problem is that, at the next election, 40 percent of the electorate will be pensioners and, hard as it might be to persuade people that you have turned away from the dark doings of your past, it’ll be much much harder to persuade younger, floatier voters that you are prepared to take on your own fogies (both old and young). Manage that and it’s goodbye Labour.
Four more years of us lot then.