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Simon C

This was a sad and unnecessary interview to give. It damages the Party, by giving rise to headlines suggesting the Party would benefit from an economic slump.

It ignores one of the most blinding lessons from 1997: that an unpopular government cannot rely on a sound economy to see it home. In 1997 it was not "the economy, stupid".

Worst of all, though, this simply reinforces the impression that the Party is only interested in economics.

I would hope that any of the leadership candidates would disassociate themselves from this - but it's a shame they have to be put in that position.

Selsdon Man

I would draw bloggers attention to the recent yougov Sunday Times poll.

48% of the population want the new leader to commit the party to big cuts in taxes and government spending. (Only 28% oppose)

50% want big reforms in public services such as health and education, including privatisation where appropriate. (28% oppose)

47% want the party to commit to withdrawing from the EU if it does not return power to member states. (29% oppose).

59% want the party to campaign on the economy and public services rather than immigration. 42% want the party to connect more with single mothers, gay people and immigrants. 49% want the party to move away from the right to the political centre.

It is clear that it is our policies on immigration and socially conservative attitudes that make the party look extreme, particularly amongst the young who support our radical policies on cuts, public service reform and and the EU.

We need to convince voters than we can deliver these radical policies, not an economic slump, to return to power. Michael Howard's reasoning is false and he is trying to justify an immigration-based campaign that made us look extreme.

Jack Stone

The Party lost last time because it simply failed to learn any lessons from the defeat of 2001.
It failed to learn that you can only win elections fighting on the centre ground.It failed to learn that caring moderate politics are what people want not the sort of in your face, nasty politics we got under Hauge.
With Davis looking likely to win the present contest I am still not convinced the party have learned any lesssons from May this year let alone 2001.
Until they do nothing will change. Defeat will just continue to follow defeat.

Selsdon Man

The yougov poll shows that the centre ground wants tax and spending cuts, public service reform and return of sovereignty from the the EU. A Conservative party that is cautious on these issues moves the centre ground back to Labour and the Lib Dems.

The Brtish public does not want a party obsessed with immigration or family values (code for being preachy about gays and single mums). It wants both economic and social freedom.

You cannot advocate free markets and choice and want to run people's private lives. The polls show that.

It is a pity that the Cornerstone Group and its supporters do not recognise that social attitudes have changed and that you cannot turn the clock back to the 1950s.

Sean Fear

The public don't want a single issue campaign. That doesn't mean they disliked what we were saying about immigration in the election campaign. Rather the reverse; we consistently led Labour by 25-30% on the issue, if polls are to be believed. The strong swings we achieved in much of London and the South East must, in part, have been down to public opposition to immigration on its current scale.

The fact is that if we are not prepared to put forward sensible policies on immigration, and articulate them confidently, a good many voters will indeed opt for parties that are "obsessed with immigration"

Selsdon Man

Agreed Sean but our campaign suggested that we were obsessed by immigration. There is no point campaigning on issues on which you have a strong lead. You should campaign on issues to increase public awareness of sound policies on issues that matter to them.

Look what happened in the European Elections when we abandoned the robust of William Hague - we were hit hard by UKIP and the BNP.

We should have fought the election on tax cuts, the EU and public service reform. The personal debt problem is partyly due to high taxes. We would have stopped the UKIP protest vote costing us around 15 to 20 seats. Instead, we believed the propaganda of our opponents in the media and were too cautious.

If we had fought an agressive, principled and postive campaign, we could have picked up around another 30 to 50 seats - enough to cost Blair his overall majority.


Yes Sean, but the unknown is how many votes/seats it cost elsewhere either directly from people who would otherwise have voted Conservative, or through the maintenance of tactical voting.

It's one thing to cite polls showing that the Conservatives had the most popular policies on immigration - but I suspect the gap between people who let it decide their vote is far smaller. The Conservatives should also give more thought to the fact that they are ALWAYS thought to be the best off the main parties on immigration, and will pick up a lot of votes automatically if that's what people are worried about. If certain seats are especially susceptible to a strong message then let them campaign on it "under the radar" of the mainstream media (a la Rosindell in 2001.)

Wat Tyler

Clearly Howard's interview is unhelpful. But he must be hurting quite a bit. He did his best for us in very difficult circumstances, yet all he gets now is a stream of snide remarks from some of the very people who were actually there in the cockpit with him.

Anyway, the past is behind us. I agree with Selsdon about the upbeat message from that ST poll. The cycle has moved on, and we're now the party with the policies that the electorate want- on public services, tax and spend, and the EU. If we can just stay on track and not once again fall prey to that panic retreat into the bunker (which is why...and I hestitate to mention this in Jack's presence- I support DD).

I also agree with Sean- what polling evidence I've seen suggests that our immigration policies are much more popular than Labour's- even among Labour supporters (see eg ). Of course we shouldn't lead on that- we're about so much more. But just because it's highly charged, let's not shrink away from it either.


Everything Howard does is dreadful. We must refuse to get sentimental just because it's now difficult for him - he represents much of what is bad about the Conservative Party (and Francis Maude covers the rest) and we must emphatically reject them.

Jack Stone

The type of voters the party needs to attract, the middle classes, will not vote for the prospectus put forward in the opinion poll quoted.
Policy should not be decided on what the latest opinion poll tells you.
I have no doubt that one opinion poll will tell you that the public back the party on immigration and tax cuts etc and another with slightly differant question will come up with the opposite conclussion.
Opinion polls are nothing more than comfort blankets and I don`t think we should get into the situation where we put too much reliance on them.


"it doesn't explain why the LibDem opposition party attracted many more additional voters..."

Just a stab in the dark, but since the biggest single issue of the last few years has been Iraq, and the Lib Dems had a position that a large number of disaffected Labour voters could support, is it any great mystery why the Lib Dems attracted many more additional voters?

"Michael Howard's dog-whistle messages on 'immigration and gypsies'"

And abortion, don't forget.

James Hellyer

We shouldn't be too hard on Michael Howard. He did his best in unfortunate circumstances. His best wasn't good enough, so he took the blame and resigned.

Even his much derided attempt to change the leadership rules was well intended (if utterly wrongheaded). It diagnosed the problem IDS faced (no support from MPs), but not the cure (the MPs getting their act together). It's been defeated and he's going.

As for today's intervention, it encapsulates what many Conservatives think. You only have to listen to Michael Portillo and other advocates of a Clarke leadership as, like Private Frazer from "Dads Army", they tell us we're doomed, so it doesn't matter who we pick as leader.

I think such naysayers are wrong. The country was prosperous in '97, but we lost then. Admittedly we were corrupt and discredited too, but Labour seems to be heading the same way. In any case, the recovery of the 90s was particularly joyless (remember the interminable discussions about the "feelgood factor"?) and the coming years look set to match that feeling.


Howard's comments are unhelpful. He has given the Party some momentum but risked destroying it all because of the leadership rule change fiasco.

It is entirely possible to win an election on matters other than the economy. If people are content, they've just got to be told how they'd be more content under a new government. In the end, it was fatigue that lost the Party 1997, not the economy (I would argue, anyway).

Sean Fear

I disagreed with Howard's proposal to disenfranchise the party.

But, in the period from November 2003 to May 2005, I think Howard did as well as we had any right to expect from him. Not only did the party regain a net 33 seats, it ran Labour close in a load of seats where it fell a long way short in 2001. I think that some people had completely unrealistic expectations about how we were going to perform in May, and are now sniping at Howard because we didn't fulfill them.

James Hellyer

You certainly couldn't fault Michael Howard for the effort he put in, especially during the elction, as with so many Shadow Cabinet colleagues busy shoring up their own majorities, Howard effectively was the Conservative Party.


James, I agree with you about the effort Michael Howard put in during the election.

I'm hoping that presiding over the conference won't be the "unenviable task" the Editor refers to, but rather a chance for the assembled representatives to warmly thank him, and Sandra, for their efforts on behalf of the party.

Sean Fear

"it doesn't explain why the LibDem opposition party attracted many more additional voters."

Basically this was the urban intellectual vote which reacted violently against Mrs. Thatcher, and has now reacted violently against Labour.

Some of the soft Tories who voted Lib Dem in 1997 and 2001 actually came back to us, although not enough of them.

David Farrer

I had hoped that David Davis might have something to offer. Within seconds of hearing him on the radio on Thursday he was going on about something called "social justice". Good grief. Hasn't the man read any Hayek?


Yes, David, let's all tell the 70%+ of target voters who say that they would like the Conservative Party to embrace "social justice" that we're agin it because of what Hayek said. At the same time we should carry on attacking the idea of an "ethical foreign policy". After all it's more important to retain obscure intellectual integrity than use language that registers with voters.

Sometimes I despair.

Richard Allen

"Some of the soft Tories who voted Lib Dem in 1997 and 2001 actually came back to us, although not enough of them."

While this was clearly true in some areas it was not a universal effect. The catastrophe of Solihull was proof enough of that.

Jonathan Sheppard

Ed - I often had to have the debate with a couple of helpers who were very much into political philosophy and had read (as I had) Hayek, Rand and the like and wanted my literature to express "the virtue of selfishness" amongst other things.

My come back always had to be political philosphy is best left to philosophers - I was busy dealing with reality.

James Hellyer

Yes, David, let's all tell the 70%+ of target voters who say that they would like the Conservative Party to embrace "social justice" that we're agin it because of what Hayek said.

Actually Tim, my preference would be to avoid terms like "social justice" altogether. These are terms for the political classes. I would prefer we uses simple language like "caring", or "helping the poor", "doing the right thing" etc

Ronald Collinson

Poor Michael Howard.

It was good that he gave us time for a leadership election, rather than thrusting us into chaos. His attempts to stop us from being more democratic than Labour was ill-advised, but we should not forget all of the good things he did for us.

We won a lot of seats (even if our share of the popular vote didn't increase), and – more importantly – he managed to unite the party. He might have obsessed over single-issues and lacked overall vision, but he gave us back the discipline robbed by all that time in power.

Code for being preachy about gays and single mums

Hold on a moment. While it is true that 'family values' does tend to mean exactly that, we shouldn't give up on the importance of the family and sexual morality. While homophobia is simply prejudice (a prejudice it appears we have, very nearly, escaped from), there are good, reasons – moral and practical – for not engaging in casual sexual intercourse. Promiscuity should be discouraged, and importance of marriage promoted (a good start, of course, would be putting pressure on the CoE to allow homosexuals to marry – now that would show that we'd got over those issues!)


You may be right James that "helping the poor" is simpler than "social justice" but it doesn't poll as well. It may not poll as well because "social justice" communicates a broad sense of a well-ordered society characterised by fairness between its various member groups. A CSJ survey found "fairness to those in need of help and fairness to those who provide help" as the most popular understanding of the term.

This is all besides the point to some extent. The key thing is to avoid any suggestions (derived from Hayek or otherwise) that we Conservatives are against social justice.


We did make progress under MH, Ronald, but very limited progress. Labour was much less popular than in 2001 but we hardly increased our share of the vote on 5th May. The seats we won often reflected a drift of voters away from supporting a Labour MP and toward third-placed LibDem candidates.

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