The Tories are doing better than they think
A poll released on Saturday shows that the Tories could be beaten into third place in next years Euro Elections, having come top last time round. The principle cause, UKIP.
The Euro Elections have long been a useful safety valve for CCHQ, allowing as they do for disgruntled Tories to show their displeasure at the current leadership without doing any real damage. It is the political equivalent of a one-night stand.
So why has this latest poll got Tories so ruffled? On its own, the poll is harmless, almost expected. But the cumulative effect of a succession of poor poll results is starting to sap the collective Tory spirit.
Yet it needn’t be so. Contrary to what you may think, the government do have some positive results to point to. The deficit has been cut by 25 percent. Unemployment is down. Inflation is steady. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is on track. And on the ideological side of things, there are a few ‘sound’ policies being implemented. The latest welfare bill pass last week with a healthy majority, and Gove is making solid, if quiet progress in Education. All this despite having a surly lodger in the Coalition.
So the question remains; why can’t the Tories translate this into better polling? Why can’t they fire up their base?
One reason is perception. Many Tory supporters have already decided that the Coalition is lame duck, or worse, that Clegg and Co have a disproportionate amount of influence. For these Tories, it’s simply a matter of coasting along until 2015 and banking on the fact that Ed Milliband is the Labour Leader and that the public still don’t trust Labour on the economy. This, plus a hope that the Lib Dems get a kicking, is enough to give Conservatives hope of an outright majority at the next General Election.
Other Tories never liked Cameron from the day he became leader. They don’t think he’s a ‘proper Tory’, not nearly conservative enough. They voted for him in the election out of party loyalty, but his modernisation agenda grated. The environment, international aid, defence cuts and a commitment to match Labour spending on the NHS are all wildly out of sync with the values of grassroots Tories. Yet whereas a decade ago these voters had no alternative but to stick with the Conservatives, today they can seek refuge with Nigel Farage and UKIP. Precise figures are hard to come by, but few will deny that there has been a stead stream of voters and activists drifting to the purple team. Debate on Equal Marriage legislation will only act as a catalyst for this trend.
The third group of Tories are those who hoped that the Tory rebranding was all a smoke screen, that once Cameron was settled in No. 10, the veil would slip and the snarling Tory wolf would be unleashed on the bloated Public Sector, welfare budget and debt mountain. For these wishful Thatcherites, it must be galling to see a Tory leader who looks more at home with the Lib Dem front bench than he does his own Right-Wingers.
But what about non-Conservative Party members? If elections are won in the Middle Ground, what has happened to those who backed Cameron in 2010? This is a tougher one to answer because party loyalty would not have been a factor. For many, it would have been a simple urge to get Labour out of Office after 13 years. It’ll be no surprise to see that this lazy anti-incumbency vote drift away. There’ll be those who bought into the revamped Tory image of hugging Hoddies and saving polar bears, though these were just as likely to vote Lib Dem.
So what are the options for the Tory High Command? The first option is simply business as usual. Labour’s poll lead is shallow and Ed Milliband is more a liability than an asset. And as mentioned, the Lib Dems will be thankful just to hold what they’ve got, let alone challenge for a increase in their share of the vote. The only complicating factor is UKIP nibbling away the Tory Right. The Tories lost out on 15 seats at the last General Election because of UKIP. That number is only going to increase.
What about a Pact with UKIP? It would neutralise one threat, but bring with it just as many problems as it solves. The One Nation Conservatives would balk the prospect of having weapons-grade Thatcherites on board. The Tories would also have to decide which seats they would leave uncontested, much angering the already unhappy grassroots. There would also be the humiliation of having to admit that the Conservative Party is no longer capable of winning an election on its own. Never underestimate the power of pride in politics.
The Conservatives could always try to win back the ground lost to UKIP. Hinting at an In/Out Referendum is one step in that direction, as is ratcheting up the language about Strivers and Scroungers. However their Coalition partners will be only too happy to put the brakes on any lurch to the Right, particularly during the second half of the Parliament when they want to be distancing themselves from the Tories for their own electoral purposes.
But if Cameron is lucky, things might well improve. The economy could continue to grow, and UKIP could split into two, with Libertarians and Social Conservatives each blaming the other for the divorce. Then again, the Eurozone could implode. We could be embroiled in a war with Iran. A spike in energy prices could tip the world back into recession. Or, worst of all for the Conservatives…David Milliband could become Labour Leader.