Team Cameron have chosen an odd day to announce the results of the Built to Last referendum. Given the fanfare with which it was launched in January the BtL result will hardly be noticed given today's LibDem vote on tax.
As recorded in this earlier post, 92.7% of participants in the Built to Last ballot have endorsed David Cameron's new statement of values. But it will be the poor turnout that will attract attention. ConservativeHome predicted a poor turnout and a 90%+ endorsement... and both have happened. The turnout was just 26.7%. The party hoped to use text voting and a premium phone service to encourage participation but with little success.
The party made the same mistake as New Labour has been making in its efforts to address general turnout at elections - the methods of voting are much less important than giving people something that's worth voting for. Although 'Built to Last II' was less like a platitudinous Anglican sermon than 'Built to Last I' it was not much better. Just as fewer and fewer people are motivated to go and listen to the average Anglican vicar every Sunday, very few Tories were motivated to endorse Built to Last. CCHQ's press release compares the turnout with William Hague's Believing in Britain referendum of 2000. Both Built to Last and Believing in Britain were wholly uncontroversial. A more telling comparison would have been with William Hague's 1998 referendum on the euro. Something real was at stake and the ballot of members wasn't insulting. William Hague won an 84.4% endorsement for his policy on a 58.9% turnout. If we had been treated with respect on this occasion we would have been given real choices. We weren't.
In describing BtL earlier today, David Cameron said the following:
"We will put economic stability and fiscal responsibility ahead of promises to cut taxes. Protecting the environment and tackling climate change will be given equal prominence to public services and the economy. We will improve public services for all, rather than promote opt outs for a few. The test for all our policies will be how they help the most disadvantaged in society."
Ming Campbell could have said that. Blair or Brown could say it. If all politicians are saying similar stuff at the next General Election you can expect another low turnout then, too.