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Robert McIlveen: How to unseat Ruth Kelly (with a little help from LibDem voters)

Robert recently started a blog - ConservativeHomo - which, he writes, was named in "(cheeky) homage" to ConservativeHome!

The Conservative Party has suffered heavily from tactical voting in the past – in 1992 it roughly halved John Major’s majority. But it was not always the case that a tactical vote was an anti-Tory vote, however much groups like TV87 thought it was. Indeed, in the 1980s Alliance supporters who voted tactically split fairly evenly, and even in 1992 there were plenty who voted to keep Labour out.

Tactical voting, and our approach to it, needs to be distinguished from our experience of it in the 1990s, when it worsened the crushing defeat of 1997. It has already changed since then, with Liberal Democrat voters being far less inclined to support Labour in 2005 than in 2001, resulting in Conservative gains. Yet there is no reason why we could not push this unwinding of Liberal to Labour tactical voting into getting Liberal Democrat supporters to help us get Labour out of office.

So how could we achieve a position where we benefit from tactical voting? First off, it is never going to help us get Liberal Democrat-held seats back. Their voters might quite like the thought of a Con-Lib coalition and incumbent Lib Dem MPs may well benefit from continued tactical support from Labour supporters. However, in the more numerous Labour-held marginals, Liberal Democrat supporters could be crucial.

David Cameron’s first year as leader has seen several key developments which will help draw tactical support from anti-Labour Liberal Democrats. YouGov surveys have shown a marked shift between the 2005 election and now when they ask whether respondents would prefer a Labour government led by Blair (2005) or Brown (2006) or a Conservative on headed by Howard or Cameron, with Blair leading by 52 to 35 just before the election and Cameron now ahead of (predicted) Brown 43-34.

The interesting figure is the difference between voting intention and governmental preference. In the later survey (28-30th November 2006) the preference for a Cameron-led government leads Tory voting intention by 6 points, whereas Howard’s gap is only 3. The Labour figures are even more stark – a Blair government led a Howard one by 15 more points than Labour led Conservatives in vote intention. For Brown and Labour in 2006, Brown is only ahead by 2 points, roughly the same as Cameron.

There is clearly much less resistance to the idea of a Tory government. As the differences between the voting intention and government preference largely comes from supporters of other parties or none this suggests Cameron’s first year has made real progress in opening up the field for anti-Labour tactical voting to help us win seats.

The issue agenda pursued by Cameron also makes this plausible. By moving decidedly into Lib Dem territory and pushing policies where the two parties are not far apart, such as ID cards and the environment, Cameron is reducing the distance between the two parties ideologically. If anti-Labour feeling persists we are more likely to convert these Lib Dem voters into tactical Tories the less dissonance there is between the two parties.

Using ConservativeHome’s poll of polls to give a constant vote share and, we can do a rough-and-ready estimate of how many seats tactical voting could swing. Total votes and a focus on Ruth Kelly’s seat (purely for illustrative purposes, of course) demonstrate how much of a difference some Liberal Democrat to Conservative tactical switching could make (click on image to enlarge):

Tvchart This is a pretty basic illustration of the importance of tactical voting, but it does show that if we can continue to appeal to floating Lib Dems and push a “vote Tory to get Labour out” message there are votes and seats to be gained on top of any “natural” advances. Small changes can have big impacts.


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