David Skelton: Now is the time to set out how to win more support outside our south-eastern heartland
David Skelton is a former Deputy Director of Policy Exchange. He is now establishing a campaign group aimed at broadening Conservative appeal, which will launch next week. Follow David on Twitter.
The Conservative Party can still win a majority at the next election. It’s true that the party hasn’t won an overall majority for 21 years - and it’s true that the Party is no longer an electoral force in many places across the country, especially in our great northern cities. Yet I am optimistic that the Conservatives can be the party for the many, not the few.
The challenge for the Conservatives over the coming years is to reach out to those groups of voters who remain largely detached from the Party: voters outside of the South Eastern heartland; ethnic minorities; working class voters (especially in the North and Midlands); and people living in cities.
Only 16 per cent of ethnic minority voters voted Tory at the last election. The Party only holds 20 of the 124 urban seats in the North and Midlands (that’s 16 per cent). It doesnt have a single councillor in Liverpool, Sheffield or Manchester. And the perception of the Party remains that it is not a people’s party, with 64 per cent of voters agreeing with the statement that the party “looks after the interests of the rich and powerful, not ordinary people.”
If the Party can’t overcome these challenges it will find it difficult to win an overall majority in the decades to come, and will have to face spells of opposition interspersed with brief periods of coalition government. For those of us who believe that the country would be better off with a majority Conservative government, that is clearly something that should concern us greatly.That’s why I am launching a new campaign group next week with the express aim of broadening the appeal of the Conservative Party, in order to build a coalition of voters to ensure Tory success for decades to come. MPs from across the party have contributed to an initial paper looking at Conservative challenges and how the party can overcome them. Contributors include Matthew Hancock, Douglas Carswell, Robert Halfon, Laura Sandys, Nadhim Zahawi, Gavin Barwell, Guy Opperman, Paul Maynard, Rachel Maclean, Stephen Crabb, Damien Hinds and Lord Bates.
The goal for the group is to suggest ways to break down the barriers between the Conservative Party and key groups of target voters. This will include considering policies that the Conservatives should pursue to gain ground, in areas such as job creation and the cost of living. We’ll also be tackling issues around how the party can be more diverse and representative at national and local level, attract more ethnic minority candidates and people from poorer backgrounds, and use technology and social media in an effort to reach out to voters.
The group will also emphasise the importance of Conservatives being involved on the ground all year round, not just in the few months before an election. By being actively involved in real and virtual social networks, and becoming known as positive forces for change, Conservatives will start to overcome the negativity or suspicion that still exists towards them in many parts of the country. That is why the group will not purely be based in the Westminster bubble, but will be working at a local level to help change happen.
The 2015 election is, obviously, crucial. Most of the target constituencies that the party must win are urban, and consist of a higher than average proportion of ethnic minority voters and public sector workers – just the sort of people that this group aims to attract.
But we must think much longer term than the next election. One of the key goals must be to win second place back from the Liberal Democrats in as many seats as possible, so that the Conservatives are seen as the main challengers to Labour – crucial for future elections. The old political maxim of ‘second place first’ absolutely identifies what the Conservative target should be in many constituencies.
The ultimate aim of this group is to ensure that the Conservatives are able to govern, alone, with sustainable majorities, over the coming decades. At the moment, their ‘glass ceiling’ of support is too low to be able to do this. Only by broadening their appeal and reaching out to voters who have previously been reluctant to vote Tory will the party be able to build the new coalition of voters that it needs. If they can successfully broaden their appeal, the Conservative Party will retain its mantra as the true 'One Nation' party, and be victorious at the next election and beyond.
This is an extract from a book of essays to mark the launch next Monday of a new campaign group looking at ways to broaden the appeal of the party