David Skelton of Policy Exchange provides the latest text from March 9th Victory 2015 Conference. Please follow Dave on Twitter.
64 per cent of voters agree with the statement that the Conservative Party “looks after the interests of the rich, not ordinary people.” That perception is one of the core reasons that the Tories haven’t won an election for almost 21 years.
A large number of working class voters, particularly the C2s and DEs of marketing speak, simply don’t think that the Tory Party understands their concerns and is merely interested in looking after the interests of the rich and privileged. If they don’t change that perception it’s hard to see how they can govern alone with a sustainable majority in the coming decades. Just as Mitt Romney lost last November because he failed the “understanding people like me” test, so the Conservatives continue to fail the “in touch” test.
However, if the Conservatives can develop a ‘blue collar’ offering, there’s a real opportunity for them to build a new electoral coalition, particularly as the working class vote looks to be more up for grabs than it’s been for generations.
There’s a general sense of disengagement from politics felt in many working class areas, with a belief that Tories don’t understand and that Labour have drifted away from their roots. As part of our Northern Lights research, some 86 per cent of working class voters agree that “politicians don’t understand the real world at all”.
Lord Bates was Deputy Chairman of Campaign North in the last parliament. He was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Langbaurgh 1992-7, and Paymaster General 1996-7. He writes regularly for ConservativeHome. This is the speech he delivered at last weekend's Victory 2015 Conference.
When the prime minister went to Keighley in West Yorkshire last week to deliver a major speech on the economy there were some in the metropolitan elites who suggested that was a ‘courageous’ location to choose, being deep in the Labour heartlands.
Not so. Keighley is a the heart of a large ‘bloc of blue’ containing eight Conservative seats stretching from Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), through Shipley (Philip Davies), Keighley & Ilkley (Kris Hopkins), Dewsbury (Simon Reevell), Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) to Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) and Pendle (Andrew Stephenson).
At that point the prime minister may not have been aware of the latest Lord Ashcroft Polls released on Saturday that showed that this area displayed one of the lowest swings from Conservatives to Labour in the country—in no small part due to the outstanding work of the aforementioned MPs.
This is not Scotland...
Prior to the 1997 meltdown of the Conservative vote nationally the Conservatives held only 17 seats across the North compared to 139 by Labour and 5 by the Lib Dems. Following the 2010 General Election the Conservatives have 42 seats across the North of England compared to 104 for Labour and 11 for the LibDems.
In Scotland in 1997 we lost all 11 Conservative held seats and the extent of the ‘recovery’ is that in Scotland we now hole 1.
Philip Davies is the Member of Parliament for Shipley and Parliamentary Spokesman for Blue Collar Conservatism. For more information about Blue Collar Conservatism you can visit the website. Follow Philip on Twitter.
The Conservatives cannot hope to win the next election without gaining substantial support from blue collar Britons. Blue collar voters have been vital to every Conservative election victory since the age of mass suffrage. 2010 was no exception, with our biggest swings coming from C2 and D voters. Today somewhere between 35% and 40% of people are employed in some form of manual work but, according to Lord Ashcroft’s polls, the numbers describing themselves as working class are as high as 58%.
It is from these groups which we must find the support to give us a majority in 2015. While this will be a challenge, I believe it can be done. Indeed, I believe that it should be viewed as an opportunity.
Quite simply, Labour has abandoned the working class. Blue collar voters were ignored throughout Labour’s time in office and they were amongst those who lost out most as a result of Labour’s disastrous management of our economy. In fact, far from being for the working class, Labour favours those who do not work!
Gavin Barwell is Member of Parliament for Croydon Central. Follow Gavin on Twitter.
I’ve written before for ConservativeHome both about the long-term existential threat to the Party from our low support among Britain’s growing black and minority ethnic communities and about what we could do to tackle this threat. On Saturday, I had the chance to speak about this challenge at one of the breakout sessions at ConservativeHome’s excellent Victory 2015 Conference.
I set out seven things we should be doing. But before I get on to them, I want to make two over-arching points.
Black and minority ethnic voters have the same concerns as everyone else. They’re worried about the cost of living, about jobs, about crime, about the quality of care in our National Health Service. Doing a good job in government will help to build our support among these voters just like any other group of voters. But both the Party’s internal polling and the published work by Lord Ashcroft show that this is unlikely to be enough on its own - many black and minority ethnic voters perceive our Party as at best not caring about them and at worst actively hostile to them. We need to address this ‘brand’ problem if we are to make significant progress.
Whilst I think it is essential that the Party addresses this problem, I am not advocating that it does so to the exclusion of everything else. It is also important that we win back seats from the Liberal Democrats and that we do better in parts of the North of England and Scotland. Building support among Britain’s black and minority ethnic communities is one of many things we need to do.
Nadine Dorries is the Member of Parliament for Mid Bedfordshire. Follow Nadine on Twitter.
I was delighted to be asked to speak at the ConservativeHome conference on Saturday and to give my opinion on how I think the party can reach out to blue collar workers.
I don’t actually like the term ‘blue collar’ very much as, by implication, it excludes women and so from here on in I will use the socio economic terminology of C2s. It wasn’t an easy talk to give as all the way through I was very much aware that the C2s are no longer going to listen to a thing we say. They don’t trust any of the three main parties very much, anymore.
Back in the day, when I grew up on my Liverpool council estate every member of Liverpool City council was Conservative. The city had eight Conservative MPs. The Conservative Party had a brand. It was known universally as the party of the family. C2s knew who and what they were voting for. The C2 family today lives a tough life. It will only take a minute or two of talking to a C2 before money crops up in the conversation. They know the price of everything; they have to. They shop at Aldi for orange squash, washing powder, detergents, dog food, bread, biscuits and crisps and they go to Tesco for value fishcakes, mince, sausages and chicken. They buy vegetables on the market and only have fish if it is in the reduced aisle. A C2 mum knows if there is enough spare for the chippy on a Friday night and she would love to have enough to go to JBB Sports for the kid’s trainers rather than the market. They know the price of milk.
Andrea Leadsom is MP for South Northamptonshire. Follow Andrea on Twitter.Andrea's talk was given to ConservativeHome's Victory 2015 Conference, on 9th March. Read the contributions from Rob Halfon on blue collar conservatism and John Stevenson on winning in the North.
Research by the Electoral Commission into the 2001 general election confirmed that where there’s a woman candidate the turnout among women was 4% higher.
Let’s just think about that for a second.
It’s such a compelling argument for more female candidates that party strategists need almost look no further.
At the ConservativeHome conference on Saturday, my friend Amber Rudd MP, Tom Mludzinski, an IPSOS MORI analyst and I had the pleasure of talking to party activists about how to win the women’s vote. Tom started off explaining that one of the key differences between men and women’s approach to politics is that men look at the strategy and the tactics whereas women engage with the issues and the fundraising. So all you 'strategic' men out there - if you want a 4% higher turnout amongst women (which is a roughly 2% higher turnout overall) then SELECT FEMALE CANDIDATES!
David Cameron knew about this killer fact when he decided to develop the 'A list' and the experience of three years shows that whilst we may be only 48 in number, the women MPs are definitely making their presence felt.
Robert Halfon is the Member of Parliament for Harlow. Follow Robert on Twitter. This is the text of a talk he gave to ConservativeHome's Victory 2015 Conference.
> Previously published in this series: John Stevenson MP on reaching voters in the North.
John Stevenson is Member of Parliament for Carlisle. Follow John on Twitter. This is the talk he gave to ConHome's Victory 2015 Conference. Over the next few days we will be publishing other presentations and talks given to the event.
In 1959 the Conservative Party returned 78 MPs in the north of England. In 2010 it was 43 – and this was the best result in nearly 20 years.
What is it that has made the north such barren electoral territory for the Conservatives? It has not always been so, but at the moment the Conservatives simply do not have enough northern MPs, councillors, and councils. In some parts of the north, such as Manchester, there isn’t a single Conservative councillor in the local authority. Our Parliamentary representation isn’t much better. In my own county, Cumbria, we made little impact in Barrow or Copeland. Why not? These are areas that should be perfectly winnable for the Conservatives, but we have found it difficult not only to resonate with the electorate, but to portray our message in a user friendly way.
I believe that the fundamentals for any successful party are Party, People, and Policy. If a party gets all the fundamentals right, it is almost unbeatable. If it gets some of them right it can have some success. If it gets none right, then its ability to perform well becomes severely hampered.
I believe the Conservative Party’s fundamentals are generally on target in the south, but hard work is urgently needed in order to once again appeal to the northern voter.
Our party brand in the north is weak. The party is perceived as a southern party, perhaps even as against the north. Anyone within the party knows this is nonsense, but it is an image that must be effectively addressed and changed. There is a subtle fight to be fought, and often isn’t helped by media representation. It is the weakness of the party brand that undoubtedly led David Cameron to begin his reforming efforts – the results of which, I think, have been mixed.
By Paul Goodman
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The parts of Theresa May's speech last weekend that attracted most interest - profit-making schools, new anti-strike laws, hostility to the ECHR - drew attention away from the whole. And that whole was held together by a distinctive and unusual view of the role of the state - at least among Conservative politicians and at least in recent years. The Home Secretary painted a "vision is of a state that is strong, small and strategic. Strong, to provide security. Small, to protect freedom. And strategic, to make our economy more competitive and provide opportunity for all."
The idea of a strong but small state is acceptable to most libertarians: after all, a weak nighwatchman state would be of no use to them. It wouldn't be able to guarantee the rule of law - to enforce contracts, for example. But what is distinctive about her ideal is its conception of strength. She wants an industrial policy that will promote strategic industries, back them with tax breaks, encourage more technical skills, provide tuition fee discounts for some "hard" subjects, buy more from Britisj firms. Many conservatives will believe that all this adds up to a bigger state, and that the strategic state seems to means picking winners. Is the Home Secretary another blonde interventionist? Is she Heseltine in disguise?
But whether one agrees with these ideas or not - which should be balanced against her support for more competition in the provision of public services - May is right to argue that conservatism has a place for the state in its view of the world as well as for the individual, and for everything that lies in between - those "little platoons" of Burkean renown. After the murderous failure of communism and fascism, we're bound to look at affection for the state - let alone state-worship - with suspicion. None the less, conservatism isn't just about "a market with a flag on top". It grasps that there is an unbreakable bond between the state, which we tend to dislike, and some of the things that we love most, such as the Queen and the armed forces.
By Paul Goodman
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" 'What would you do in our place?' asks one insider, not unreasonably." The sentence appeared in the midst of Janan Ganesh's column in yesterday's Financial Times (£). Janan added: "A more strategic approach perhaps looks feasible only from the comfort of the columnist’s chair."
He was right to point out that being a spectator is a great deal easier than being an actor. I have been a commentator...then an MP...then a commentator again - and agree that occupying that chair is more comfortable than sitting on the back or front bench in the Commons.
For all that, though, the insider has succumbed to inertia if he or she really believes that there is nothing at all that David Cameron could do to try to get back in control of events. For example, he could re-read his excellent conference speech of last year. Here's part of it:
"And for us Conservatives, this is not just an economic mission – it’s also a moral one. It’s not just about growth and GDP…
…it’s what’s always made our hearts beat faster – aspiration; people rising from the bottom to the top.
Line one, rule one of being a Conservative is that it’s not where you’ve come from that counts, it’s where you’re going.
We’ve been led by the daughter of a grocer, the son of a music hall performer ... by a Jew when Jews were marginalised, by a woman when women were sidelined. We don’t look at the label on the tin; we look at what’s in it"
Cameron's purpose was to show that "this party has a heart, but we don’t like wearing it on our sleeve" - and thus marry two big Tory themes: being the party of those who get ahead and being one for those who fall behind. He applied the idea to schools and welfare reform:
We say we’ve got to get the private sector bigger and the public sector smaller…our opponents call it ‘Tory cuts, slashing the state’. No: it’s the best way to create the sustainable jobs people need.
We say help people become independent from welfare…our opponents call it: ‘cruel Tories, leaving people to fend for themselves.’
No: there is only one real route out of poverty and it is work.
We say we’ve got to insist on a disciplined, rigorous education for our children … our opponents call it: ‘elitist Tories, old-fashioned and out of touch.’
No: a decent education is the only way to give all our children a proper start in this world.
The reason we want to reform schools, to cut welfare dependency, to reduce government spending is not because we’re the same old Tories who want to help the rich... it’s because we’re the Tories whose ideas help everyone - the poorest the most."
Once he's re-read the speech, the Prime Minister should ask: has there really been enough follow-up? Indeed, has there been any at all? If not, what's the point of my conference speeches, since only a tiny number of voters see even a clip from them?
Labour has made a focused to follow-up Ed Miliband's own "One Nation" conference speech last year. (For example, Andy Sawford, the party's victorious candidate in last year's Corby by-election, deployed the phrase in the second sentence of his victory speech.
The Prime Minister should ask himself:
Speeches aren't everything - as Tim Montgomerie has pointed out, the Prime Minister probably makes too many. Nor are TV pictures. Cameron has other ways of getting his message across - the big interview on Marr, say, being one of them.
But if that insider asked me: "What would you do in our place?", I'd answer: "You've a tougher job than mine. You're always at risk of getting knocked off course. But it would be easier to stay on it if you stick at a way of trying to set it."
"Ask yourself: have we really tried to follow up the Prime Minister's biggest speech of the year - the one which he presumably puts the most thought and effort into. And if we haven't, why was it made at all?"