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I agree with nearly all of this BUT it's not so easy to identify 'huge benefits' (and believable benefits) for the voters! we can all call for this in theory, but what is it in practice? Maybe you mean tax cuts, Giuliani-style reductions in crime, etc?

Ken Stevens

"... Michael’s suggestion that DC is not yet sufficiently like Blair .."

Vice versa preferably!

"..they will not change government unless the existing one is perceived as damaging their lives, or the potential new one is reckoned to deliver very strong improvements..."

Suggest changing "or" to "and". If, despite my personal views, the EU and WLQ are indeed of no consequence to most voters, then on other topics it could be difficult to demonstrate that Labour is damaging our lives whilst Tories have the solution. Whilst IDS has good ideas re broken society, there are lots of potential voters who are beholden to the munificence of State-dependency and likely therefore to dislike any disturbance thereof.

I thought the mantra was that opposition parties never won general elections; it was governing parties that lost them? You just need to hope that something nasty befalls the Brown administration but not until you had completed the process of rebranding and firmed up your policy stances.

Graeme Archer

All good stuff. Forgive the statistical interlude

For example, they ("people") require odds of at least 2-to-1 to take part in a wager on a coin-toss (whereas rationally, they should take the bet with a mere 51-49 payout). Risk-takers are the minority.

A common misperception in discussion about risk. The people in this experiment may be incredibly rational: long-run 51-49 odds of success are all very well, but if the cost to you of a wrong decision (eg you bet 'head' and the coin lands 'tails') is 435 billion of your earth pounds, you will require better than near-even odds to take part in the bet (unless you're odd). Your decision about whether to enter the bet will differ according to the cost of a wrong and a right decision. This explains the lottery (a quid is not much to most people, even though the odds of winning are so very, very small) (incidentally, I remember a statistician friend telling me of a question she was asked by a student: If the Chances Of Anything Coming From Mars Are A Million To One, much higher than the chances of winning the lottery - and people win the lottery every week -- then surely the chances of Lots Of Things Coming From Mars must be a near certainty? I don't think the student did well in his exams)).

Decision-theory is mostly dull, but if we're to apply it to political strategy, then we would require to understand how voters weigh financially the costs of a wrong decision (decision=vote). I think Cameron and Osborne understand this very very well. In most people's minds, the potential cost of a Tory government is mixed up with Black Wednesday. We can recall that the situation was not in fact as bad as folklore would have it: irrelevant. I'm talking about regretable perceptions, not reality. Therefore the potential cost of a decision-to-vote-Tory has to be drastically reduced. Hence the relentless focus on the mantras which, to political animals like readers of this site, either drive one up the wall or act as a sort of red rag (share the proceeds of growth etc). We have to keep telling people that we will not take decisions to increase their mortgage costs, because that way the risk of voting Tory will be reduced. All of this happens in their minds. Bayesian statisticians (who are subjectivist by design) are better at decision-theory than the class of statistician which attempts to search out some objective truth.


I think we have to remember that 99.9% of voters to do not consider who to vote for in the same way that contributors to political blogs do.

Anyone who is an experienced canvasser could add similar quotes to my own treasury:

I alway vote XXX because my Dad did.

I always vote XXX because I'm from ZZZ.

I always vote XXX because of Winston Churchill/Aneurin Bevan/Mrs Thatcher.

I would vote for XXX, but I know ZZZ is going to win, so I won't.

Labour's for the working man.

Tories are all toffs.

I'll vote for you if you promise to get me (something totally unreasonable that would require the Borough Council's and God's intervention).

I believe everthing written in the Daily Mail is gospel truth.


Cutting out all the pseudo-mathematics, what this boils down to is that people require a reason to vote Conservative - except in the unlikely event of economic meltdown or Brown doing something mega-stupid

Pace Graeme Archer, the reality of Black Wednesday was what did for Major not the perception. We went into ERM on a lie and everyone, who lost his job or his house or feared that he might in the resulting recession, cursed the Conservatives for it. It is in the area of the economy that we have most to prove, which is why sharing the profits of growth simply will not cut it. People dont work out statistics when they vote, they work out their anger.

Matt Wright

Extremely good article from Stephan Shakespeare that is absolutely spot on. As people know on this site I am a Cameron supporter (we do need to appeal broadly and be more caring) but I would not listen to Portillo for the reason Stephen says. DC does need to move up a gear but not by creating more clause-4 type division as some would badly advise him to do. However this also does not mean we need to lurch to the right. What we need to do is focus on what we stand for and keep expressing it and illustrate it with a few well thought through very distinctive practical ideas. Get the policy groups results together starting now and go through it looking for common threads. Don't just amalgamate the results but look for really new bold ways of uniting the pieces together with a new way forward for Britain. I am sure social responsibility will be part of that but it must be brought to life in really practical ways. Don't allow the messages to be diluted or distracted (booze tax, air tax etc) and get Andy Coulson on the job. As Stephan says keep being modern but after all we are modern and should be confident and normal about it, not trying to prove something. Otherwise modernising should actually be quite a prosaic endeavour that aims to make the organisation genuinely better equipped to win elections. Don't waste effort and energy, focus on what we are united around and here for - winning elections to deliver a better life for ordinary people. In pursuing change, we need to be clear what is meant by it and explain and guide the change through the organisation. We are not Labour, we are a great party that believes in freedom not authoritarian top down statism. Treat the party with respect and give it direction and we will win. Its not actually complicated and people actually want DC to win!


Tam Large

What a load of rubbish.

People vote to get new governments because they want CHANGE. "Safety" implies they want more of the same - in which case why bother. There is no incentive to change to Cameron, because he stands for more discredited Blairism - Gordon Brown realises this, and is carefully distancing himself from touchy-feely Blair politics, just as "hug-a-Blair" Dave is trying ever harder to fit that mould. It is the politics of empty getures and feel-good-factors, changing to fit the latest whiz-kid's focus group.

Now he has been rumbled to such an extent that even the genuine initiatives are perceived as stunts - as happened to Blair. They can see that behind the flimsy tinsel of David Cameron's Conservatives lies the real tinsel. He has changed the public view of the Conservatives - from being hated, to being ridiculed and dismissed.

Andrew Lilico

Jonathan and Graeme,

Stephan's point is a little deeper than I think you credit to him. The point of prospect theory is that we over-value losing what we have compared with not gaining what we should. For example, consider an experiment in which people enter a room and are given a mug, then are asked how much money they would like in exchange for that mug. Now consider a second experiment in which people enter a room, and then are asked whether they would prefer a mug or various amounts of money. In the first experiment people want systematically higher amounts of money for the mug than in the second, even though the choice is really between leaving the room with a mug or £X in either case.

Stephan's point, as I take it, is that if voters are to give up the government that they have (even setting aside risk - and I agree with Graeme that Stephan didn't express the point quite right there) - if voters are to give up a government that gives them something (as opposed to a government that fails), it must be because they see the potential for considerable benefits from an opposition, rather than merely incremental benefits. This means that, unless the government is clearly failing (which, except in terms of lost opportunities - which is the point - Brown is not), oppositions cannot win without taking risks. It is not incremental improvement that wins elections for oppositions (according to Stephan's analysis of human nature). Rather, it is convincing gambles on persuading people that there are big gains available from switching.


Call me cynical, but i think we're in the stage called 'the death of politics'. I think the turnout for the next GE will be one of the lowest on record, because people have seen right through 'how politicians affect people'. Namely for the worse. A right to housing? Nope. A right to have a say on immigration? Nope. A right to have a say on our membership of the EU? Nope. A right to NHS dental treatment? Nope. If you've worked all your days, a right to a dignified pension? Nope. Families to spend more time together than apart ( the necessity of having to have both parents work to afford overpriced mortgages)? Nope. I hope i'm wrong.....


I applaud Stephan's article, despite the fact that it makes depressing reading for the Conservatives. I firmly believe that people need a good reason to change government, and Labour has been excellent at one thing - making sure that people have money in their pocket.

We can talk about crime, social breakdown and immigration (all of which I personally see as being very, very important) but people typically care little about the good of the country, but instead want to be able to go on holiday several times a year, buy cheap clothes, have the latest electronics, and see house prices going up. Labour has delivered on all these things, and therefore pacified the electorate.

Only an economic downturn will give David Cameron the parliamentary majority we all want him to get. All we can do is support him, realising he is the Party's strongest asset, and not ever, ever, ever fall into the trap of promising tax cuts, which mean little to the average person who will immediately worry about the NHS.

Frank McGarry

Jonathan is right when he says that people need a reason to vote Conservative.

David has been in his job for 20 months but we still have no idea who he is or what he stands for. His policy of having no policies was fine for a while but cannot, and probably will not, go on much longer.

David now has a reputation for being a person who - as we say in Yorkshire - talks a lot but says nowt.

All this talk of left, right, centre and 'comfort zones' is quite meaningless. The main rebelliousness to David Cameron's leadership has come from our EUrophile MEPs, from Quentin Davies and Ken Clarke. These anti-democrats cannot be the ones being referred to as "the baying right" can they?

The Conservative Party is crying out for some real leadership. And the country is in desperate need of a Leader of the Opposition. Maybe when David returns from his trip to Rwanda he will finally start to come our of purdah. Maybe he will discard his veil and begin tell us who he is and what he wants to be Prime Minister for.

We would ALL (even we committed Conservative Party activists!)like to have a reason to vote Conservative.

Mark Hudson

Look, is it any wonder that the Conservative Party is looking unfit for Opposition let alone Government? We have an arrogant c;ique at the top that says it'll plough on regardless of how many Ealings or Bromleys it has? Apparently, the grassroots can go hang.

When the UK has a genuine state of emergency (and his OWN constituency is affected), Dave flies off to Rwanda to mouth hid latest 'right on' solutions instead of pointing out that current aid spending is wasted and a primary problem is the corrupt African dictators who poulate most of the continent.

Dave's Conservatives are a joke. Brown is actually looking like a much better option.


"The second objective is to offer clear, undeniable benefits to the voters. This does not mean electoral ‘bribes’..."

But Cameron is offering higher taxes (negative bribes if you like), the latest being to pay for increased Overseas Aid.

I would support him on this but doubt if most of the electorate would.

Ken Stevens

Matt Wright | July 23, 10:23 AM
"..Get the policy groups results together starting now and go through it looking for common threads. .. bold ways of uniting the pieces together .."

Absolutely right tactics - and "joined-up government" would be quite a novel concept! ;-)


The common threads of the policy groups are they want the Government to spend more and by implication tax more. The last one even suggested a specific tax rise (7p on beer) to pay for it!!!

Why not cure council tax or introduce PR. If you are going to be a party of the centre you had better start stealing some Lib Dem policies!

Mark Riley

Vintage Shakespeare. Very good article. Even I as an uber moderniser think its time for more authentic substance. The window for totemic tussles with the headbangers on the right has been and gone. Brown should now be the target. But is Team Cameron hard enough? Is there an iron fist under that velvet glove?


Rather, it is convincing gambles on persuading people that there are big gains available from switching.
Posted by: Andrew Lilico | July 23, 2007 at 10:34 AM
Only an economic downturn will give David Cameron the parliamentary majority we all want him to get
: Realist | July 23, 2007 at 11:17 AM

The truth in both of the comments above is no less true for being obvious, however, there is, I believe, one other factor that has been not been mentioned: Fear.

Britain might well be doing well financially at the time the next election is called, so only the fear of what will happen unless the government is changed will cause the electorate to dismiss it. I have to leave this thread for a few hours, but I will be back to discuss the electorate’s fears, which Cameron will have to concentrate on if he or a new leader is to have a chance of winning.

As for Portillo, Stephan – a dead loss if ever there was one.

Andrew Lilico

Incidentally, FWIW I don't agree that governments have to lose elections. In my view in the last century it was the Conservative Party that lost elections, but it was in government such a large proportion of the time that we had the impression that governments did it. Politics was all about us - when we screwed up, Labour was given a chance. When we got our act together in opposition, we won again.

One of our great political challenges of the past few years is that politics is no longer all about us. It was in 1997. It still was in 2001. But by 2005 few people cared about us - it was much more about Blair. Going forward...well, that's tougher to call. But if we are to make it all about us again, then we will have to gamble - we can't assume it will come for free.

Stephen Daisley

Can we please stop this never-ending intra-party hair-pulling contest? It’s dull, off-putting, and pointless – like Gordon Brown with more macho posturing.

David Cameron is the leader. Sure, he’s floundering a bit in the polls, but Brown’s bounce will die down soon (really soon, I hope: has anyone noticed that since Brown became PM it’s just been one disaster after another? Attempted attacks, flaming jeeps, Biblical floods – either this is the most unfortunate PM in history or Someone Up There is trying to tell us something.)

Dave-dissing can be good kicks, for sure. But it comes with consequences. At 21, I can (vaguely) remember the nightly news bulletins of my childhood as ‘reporters’ informed us with barely-suppressed glee of yet another bout of in-fighting in the Tories. Even younger righties like myself appreciate the fatal image of disarrayed malcontents this conjured up in the public’s minds.

Yes, Cameron can seem slick, slippery, and just a little too glossy. What would you rather? Ian Duncan Smith doddering about, clobbering away at single mothers, as even conservatives started to reconsider the merits of euthanasia?

Yes, Cameron is slaughtering some sacred cows. On the plus side, the slaughtering will no doubt be humane and the abattoir off-setting its carbon footprint by adopting a family of koalas. Know what, fellow travellers along the road of rightness? We haven’t thrown enough outdated positions overboard yet. Grammar schools are all fine and well but if we want our real Clause Four moment, let’s ditch some truly pointless old relics: the monarchy, first-past-the-post, Norman Tebbit.

And before everyone starts kicking ten shades of the brown stuff out of me and calling me a ‘pseudo-Tory’ or a ‘crypto-leftie,’ I’m not. Politically, I’m just moderately to the Right of Vlad the Impaler and there are many areas where I think Cameron is pandering to the prejudices of the liberal media and North London metropolitanism. The key is not to throw a hissy-fit and ditch Cameron as some cowardly MPs want to do, but stand by him. Quietly make our objections known, and apply pressure to the leadership through forums like this.

If you’re not appeased by this, try the following list of areas on which Cameron is reliable: anti-federalism, Atlanticism, Israel, individual liberty, marriage incentives (which are a bad idea, but that’s for another time), social breakdown, small state, and personal responsibility. His strong stance on Iraq and the war on terror is more than enough for me. But maybe others just want him to fail. Maybe they quite like Gordon Brown. Maybe they’re the secret lefties.


Michael Portillo is truly an ignorant man, he was rejected by the electorate and by his party and has become very bitter and twisted. His conversion is on the scale of the road to Damascus and is used by the BBC and the anti conservative sections to constantly undermine the party.

What Cameron and the front bench ought to do are
i) ignore everything what Portillo says because Portillo does not want us to win any more;
ii) stop riding roughshod over the rank and file (like foisting flakey candidates on us);
iii) move away from 'heir to Blair' slogan and stop from pretending to be all things to all men and women; and
iv) sort out the manifesto, because the General Elections will be in October this year and we wre running out of time.

Oberon Houston

The central point in this piece is quite correct. To the ordinary voter, things are pretty good:

1. There is high investment in public services, and the growth of the economy has helped mask the increasing tax burden. A healthier population allows Brown to claim improving NHS stats, which are partly due to improved services, but mainly related to indirect improvements in the overall health of the population. Thus the massive waste of public money remains off the main agenda – and even harms Tories pointing it out as people resent the charge regardless of the real truth behind it.

2. Interest rates are still relatively low and the brilliant success of the Thatcherite program to create a nation of home owners now works against us. We are the party that ruined lives with high inflation. A friend of mine’s father committed suicide when he realised that he would lose everything generations of his family had built up, we should never forget the terrible impact of getting it wrong. Now millions of home owners across the country own high-value property, and many have small mortgages or none at all.

The simple truth is that New Labour have adapted cleverly to harness the success of the Thatcherite revolution in a way we never really have. We should not be fighting the battle of 1979, where we were faced with the real need to take big brave decisions like fighting the unions who were dragging the country down in a battle of self destruction, like sweeping away state control, de-regulating the markets as computer technology emerged and allowing capitalist forces to build our way out of a terrible recession.

That was the past, today we face a very different situation. We know Labour are spending like they always do, we know we could do better, we know the legacy of Thatcher has made this possible, we know Brown is wasting the proceeds of this, we know their boasts of success were the fruits of our successes. Stephan is absolutely right. The public don’t care.

Why change if things are good? I believe the problems Cameron is having just now within the party are that he has embarked on a strategy without really gaining support for what the mission is. If the obvious objective is improving public services for everyone, focusing on the economy, education, health, home ownership, security, and creating quality jobs and improving Britain and the lives of Briton’s fine, simple. But before any strategy comes the mission. Cameron lack mission and he needs to engage with the party on this first and foremost. Then as leader he can declare the strategy. Lets have that conversation at conference this year and it will be much easier to unite behind it from wherever you stand in the party.

Cllr Tony Sharp

Stephan, your comments sum up almost entirely my thoughts on the matter. I for one have been baying... for strong policies that will deliver real improvements.

Let us not shy away from the fact that Britain needs policies to address reform of the economy, reduce high taxation, slash the waste of public money, tighten up immigration controls and oppose the shipping of power to the EU. These are not rabid right-wing ideals, these are things the public wants. Cameron's excellent work to date makes it possible to fight a campaign with policies such as these and win because we are no longer seen as 'out there'. The public now recognises much of what we stand for is right for the country.

All we need is to see Cameron and the leadership hanging their hat on these policies as being right for Britain. We need to have the courage of our convictions. These policies, in a package that includes policies that can deliver social justice and protect the weak in our society, is a winning proposition.

I just hope we start selling it so the voters understand what we stand for and sees we share their concerns and have a vision to address them.

Conservative Homer

Worth the risk?!
It wasnt so long ago we were considered the 'natural party of government'
How times change. Allegedly.


Failing due to lack of cojones? Portillo should know all about that concept I suppose, taking his victory over IDS for granted in 2001.

Brown possibly going to mess up? Come on Stephan. He's messed up our economy badly. Inflation out of the cage. Interest rates ballooning. Government spending out of control. Houses built across flood plains. Police ineffective. Hospitals closing. No prisons. Living standards crashing out of sight. This is all classic labour government outcomes.

Cameron has overcome the media's inability to look at the Conservatives without snarling.

Blair's gone. Now the country's ready to take the political air once more. Even BBC executives must be noticing that their lives are going down the pan. The wheel is turning - glacially - but movement can be detected if you look long enough.

The total certainty and arrogance in the media is not what it was. As they awake from their socialist dreamland, people once more want Conservative remedies, as pollsters are finding.

Cameron's cojones will help, I would agree. But one man's hormonal activity is as nothing compared to the mess Gordon Brown has made of this country. It is Conservative brainpower that is critically needed.


"When the UK has a genuine state of emergency (and his OWN constituency is affected), Dave flies off to Rwanda to mouth hid latest 'right on' solutions..."

To be fair, he made the expected appearance in Witney yesterday, as was reported on the evening news, where he did criticise the govt response. Frankly there isn't much more he could do.

I think Matt Wright has the right kind of ideas - Cameron's going in the right direction but has a lot more to do. However taking advice from Portillo is not the right road to go down.

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