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Lord Flight: I hope we win Eastleigh - but alienating your supporters isn't a strategy for winning elections

FLIGHT Howard 2Lord Flight was Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 2001-2004 and led for the Opposition on the FSMA.  He is now chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund.

There are some things which this Conservative-led administration is doing, which have the strong support of Conservative Party members and much of the country.  Michael Gove’s School Reforms, which should lead to a majority of secondary schools becoming independent, as either Academies or Free Schools, ought to improve educational standards and achievements substantially over the coming years.  In addition, Ken Baker’s Technical College initiative looks like also being a dramatic success, both in providing young people with skills which will lead to apprenticeships and employment; and in achieving surprisingly good wider educational attainment for many of those who fail in mainstream schools.  The Apprenticeship bandwagon is also rolling extremely well, helping young people to gain employable skills and a job.  Amazingly, the private sector has also created over a million new jobs and, after allowing for the sharp decline in North Sea oil production, looks to have grown by 4%-5% since 2010.  Philip Hammond is also on top at the Ministry of Defence, and is sorting out the appalling legacy of procurement waste.

In too many other important areas, however, this Government is manifestly not following the policies Conservative supporters would wish.  Taxes have risen, and not fallen, and are still rising.  Public Sector pay has risen more than Private Sector pay and not been frozen as promised.  Excessive Regulation has not been reined back.  Family-friendly policies are not being pursued and the pledge to raise the IHT limit to £1m has just been abandoned.  While the Prime Minister’s speech on Britain’s relationship with Europe was statesman-like and well received, and the never ending increase in the Brussels budget has been contained, little or nothing has actually been achieved as yet, in terms of extricating the UK from, for example, ever advancing Brussels Regulations, or the huge cost of the CAP.

Worst of all, the very people whom a Conservative-led Government should be supporting – the aspiring middle classes – are being squeezed financially, with pay falling behind inflation and their taxes rising; and where Public Sector, inflation linked, final salary schemes are being underwritten (at a costly likely to be £25bn p.a. to the tax payer by 2017), Private Sector pensions continue to dwindle in value.

Not surprisingly, membership of the Conservative Party continues to fall.  Some members of the Government appear to hold the view that it is politically positive to alienate our supporters, as when it comes to the crunch of an Election, historic Conservative supporters/members will, even if reluctantly, vote Conservative, because the other 2 Parties are so much worse;  – and policies which alienate Conservative supporters, will attract votes from others?

Boris Johnson’s electoral success would, however, appear to have demonstrated the opposite.  This sort of thinking also forgets the European Elections.  If UKIP plays its cards well – which it may or may not do – it has the potential to attract millions of Conservative voters, to register a protest vote next Summer.  This clearly happened in a modest way at the last Euro-elections, but the potential is now far greater.  Hopefully, the Conservative Candidate for Eastleigh, who is fighting her campaign on the very issues which most inherent Conservatives support, will win the by-election.  It seems to me unwise of UKIP to be fielding a candidate in this particular by-election.  They would increase their chances of a dramatic European election victory if they did not run a candidate in Eastleigh but told their supporters to vote, in this instance, for the Conservative Candidate.  This would give them a platform where they could argue that they enabled the “right sort” of Euro-sceptic, Conservative Candidate, to win the by-election.

This Conservative-led Government appears, also, to have overlooked the fact that of the order of 70% of those who now vote in elections, are over 50, with the views and values which broadly reflect their age group.  Also, the Conservatives have only won a general election since women had the vote, when a majority of women have voted Conservative.  The views and judgement of women over 50 are a key factor in determining election results, where this Government does not appear to be very popular with women.  Perhaps alienating your natural supporters does not look to be a very sensible strategy for winning elections.


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