As James Forsyth has pointed out the Tories didn't do particularly well at the last election among C1s - what I call "the pound-stretching class" - the voters who have to worry about bills, crime and can't afford to exit state monopoly services.
All successful governments depend upon them for electoral success and today Nick Clegg has made a pitch for them in an article for The Sun. He's called them the "Alarm Clock heroes" (a phrase I don't like);
"People, like Sun readers, who have to get up every morning and work hard to get on in life. People who want their kids to get ahead. People who don't want to rely on state handouts. People who don't need politicians to tell them what to think or how to live their lives. People who are not poor but struggle to stay out of the red."
Mr Clegg, who is writing on behalf of the Coalition (I'm told and not just the Lib Dems), lists some of the policies designed to help Alarm Clock Britons (a phrase, Bagehot notes, inspired by Nicolas Sarkozy):
The Fair Fuel Stabiliser was an idea that George Osborne embraced in opposition but it was a victim of the Coalition Agreement. The Stabiliser cuts the tax on fuel when the underlying oil price is high and increases duty when international oil prices are cheaper - evening out prices that motorists face at the pump.
The Lib Dems support higher and higher petrol duty as part of their climate change politics. The idea was given to the new, independent Office of Budget Responsibility by Mr Osborne and the OBR was asked to consider if it was workable. The OBR's report back was downbeat but last week, during one of his 'PM Direct' Q&As, David Cameron appeared to revive the idea:
“I’m working together with the Treasury on this. I would love to find some way of sharing the risk of higher fuel prices with the consumer. We are looking at this because I do want to help people.”
New pressure to do something about the rising price of fuel comes from two sources this morning:
Economist Andrew Lilico, a ConservativeHome regular, was the first to ever propose the Stabiliser. He recommended the device during the massive fuel protests of 2000 which nearly destroyed Tony Blair's government. The problem for the Treasury is that the Stabiliser may be fiscally neutral over the course of an oil price cycle but not necessarily over a normal fiscal period and when the deficit needs fixing.
> Some bloggers have suggested a simplistic link between petrol prices and the government's popularity. Anthony Wells has rebutted this.
2011 will be a difficult year for the country and the government. We can expect a quadruple whammy of higher taxes, higher mortgage rates, faster inflation and the first of four years of significant cuts in public spending. Resuming his essential column this morning, after a Christmas break, Allister Heath tells City AM readers that there is no need for too much pessimism, however. Despite problems in the €urozone area that could yet cause major problems, Heath says robust growth in emerging markets and an improving US economy bode well. The doomsters were wrong about a double dip recession in 2010, he notes, and predicts "unspectacular growth of 2%" for this year.
The next two years are nonetheless going to be difficult for the Conservatives as cuts bite and vested interests are upset by reforms. But, despite short-term trials, the party's long-term prospects are good. It's very hard to glean much from Downing Street on electoral strategy but over the last 48 hours I've been talking to MPs and commentators who take a close interest in party strategy. A re-election strategy with five crucial components is becoming clear. I call it the G.R.A.N.D. strategy.
GROWTH: Cameron will be re-elected if George Osborne succeeds. If the Chancellor's first budget was about eliminating the deficit his second budget must be about further measures to jumpstart the economy. Education and welfare reforms will improve Britain's long-term competitiveness but the Coalition's policies towards the City and on climate change endanger competitiveness. Tough pro-growth decisions taken now will help build a feelgood factor for 2014/15 and that will be the best possible underpinning of a re-election campaign and the promise of tax relief for the 'pound-stretching' class of striving voters. In today's FT (£) Osborne gets top marks from a majority of economists for his deficit plan. The much-underestimated Mr Osborne had a very good 2010.
RETIREMENT: Tory strategists have identified older voters - those thinking about retirement and already retired - as crucial to re-election prospects. This is the part of the electorate most likely to vote and the Coalition has bent over backwards to protect the benefits and health services on which they depend. The IDS/Webb plan for a universal pension of £140 is also key to this strategy. This may be bad for the young (the 'IPOD' generation David Willetts championed in The Pinch) but the grey vote is the Tories' number one priority.
ALLIANCE: This third component of the G.R.A.N.D. strategy is the least defined but leading Tories are determined to convert this parliament's coalition-of-necessity into some kind of realignment of British politics. It might mean that certain Lib Dems become part of a new Tory Party (eg Clegg, Laws and Alexander - long a Cameroon ambition). It might mean a non-aggression pact in seats like Eastleigh where Chris Huhne would face almost certain defeat if a Tory candidate stood. It is unlikely to mean a full merger.
NORTH: At the last election the Conservatives did least well in the North. Special regional investment subsidies and Philip Hammond's £34bn rail project are the beginnings of an attempt to win over northern voters. Beyond northern England there is despair inside Number 10 at Tory prospects in Scotland. It is one of the reasons why David Cameron is so grateful for the Coalition. Without Lib Dem MPs he would be a Prime Minister with just one MP from north of the border.
DAVE: Part five of the G.R.A.N.D. strategy is the personality of David Cameron. He is as natural a PM as Ed Miliband does not look prime ministerial. He has much better ratings than either Clegg or the Labour leader. According to party polling his commitments to social justice, the environment and to diversity of candidates mean the party reaches sections of voters, particularly women, that his predecessors cannot reach.
Ipsos-MORI has talked about an iron triangle of political success. That triangle included party leader image, economic competence (where the Conservatives enjoy an increasing advantage) and party unity. Party unity is good despite the debate about a secret alliance with the Lib Dems but it is something that Downing Street must still do much more to nurture.
By Paul Goodman
Media stories move fast. A compelling piece of research, suitably presented to catch the attention of news editors, can be here today, gone tomorrow. There's a chance of this happening with James Bethell's paper on the five million ANTI-voters - or, as Tim prefers to call them, the pound-stretchers - which was covered recently on this site and in national newspapers. I've had the chance to find some time to read the document (some journalists will have only had the chance to skim it), and believe that it's worth asking: should the Conservatives make a special pitch for the ANTIs - and, if so, how?
James Bethell of NothingBritish.com has just completed extensive research into the phenomenon of the millions of voters walking away from the mainstream parties. Most of what is estimated to be an army of five million have drifted to not voting at all but also, in increasing numbers, they have gone to nationalist parties, like UKIP and the BNP. I should immediately say what James says; UKIP and BNP are very different parties in that UKIP is not a racist party. They are nonetheless part of the same phenomenon.
James organised a major national poll by YouGov that compared the views of three thousand UKIP, BNP and mainstream voters. He also conducted ten focus groups in different parts of the country with the voter groups, including NW Leicestershire, London, Rotherham, Staines and Stoke*.
The analysis uncovered four key characteristics of this group which numbers approximately five million:
These voters are probably too raw in attitude for Ed Miliband in his confused search for the "squeezed middle" but they are voters without a home. Cameron has an opportunity to win them back and in his immigration and welfare policies he has made a very good start. The Coalition's crime, Europe and tax policies are probably going in the wrong direction, however.
The strategists in Cameron's circle rightly believe that there's a danger in wooing this category of voters because they might erode the progress that the party has made within 'Liberal Britain'. I would agree that the danger is real but I would also argue that no centre right party has ever won a majority without making big inroads into this 'pound-stretching class'. Thatcher had her Essex Man. Reagan had his 'Reagan Democrats'. John Howard had his Battlers. Stephen Harper won over the 'Tim Horton Voters'. ToryDiary recently noted their common characteristics. Cameron should study James Bethell's research and ConHome will be looking at it in a little more detail over coming days. In the meantime I've wrttten about the army of five million ANTIs in today's Daily Mail.
* Thanks for funding the research must go to Richard Smith, the businessman and philanthropist behind the 55 Tufton Street project which has gathered a number of centre right think tanks under the same roof.
7.15pm: James Forsyth on the ANTI voter