Election A to Z — T is for Tory

Election

The Tories should be hot favourites for this election. They are the incumbents, they have a decent record on the economy, and they are up against an opposition leader widely regarded as being unfit to be Prime Minister. Yet they remain neck and neck in the polls. What’s going on?

Osborne’s 12 tests

Back in 2004, George Osborne wrote an article in the Spectator listing the twleve things that would help a UK government to be re-elected. They came from a US model for predicting Presidential results, and only six of them are needed for success:1

  1.  Real per capita growth during the parliament exceeds the mean score of the previous two parliaments:
    • this is a tick; growth is good
  2. No recession during the campaign:
    • another tick; two points for the economy
  3. No sustained social or political unrest:
    • we’ve had the “trainers and TV” riots and some student bleating, but probably not enough to qualify as sustained; working days lost to strikes are hardly more than the last year of the Brown government; the score is just about three
  4. Major domestic policy change:
    • austerity, plus pensions, welfare, free schools and tuition fees means another point here
  5. Major foreign policy or miltary success: no
  6. No major foreign policy or military failure:
    • losing the vote on Syria means no points here
  7. The government is untainted by a major scandal:
    • Chris Huhne, Liam Fox, Andrew Mitchell, Maria Miller and Andy Coulson – no major scandals but it amounts to as much; nul point
  8. The governing party is not divided:
    • a close call – it’s not apparently divided, but the left and right wings are poles apart, plus two MPs and 15% of the voters have defected to UKIP; and they are part of a Coalition; a narrow miss
  9. Is the PM seen as charismatic: no
  10. Is the opposition leader seen as uncharasmatic: very much yes (the score is now 5)
  11. Is the PM new since the last election: no
  12. Has the government been in power for only a single term: yes (6 points)

So the Tories (or rather the Coalition) limp over Osborne’s finish line. But will they win the actual race?

Nice or nasty?

Much as Tony Blair before him, David Cameron came to power with a mission to de-toxify his party, to break with the past in a bid to claim the centre ground. Cameron’s job was to stop people thinking of the Tories as the nasty party. He rode a bike and put a windmill on his (Kensington) roof.

That was then. Nowadays he doesn’t talk about the soft stuff – the hug-a-hoodie, eco warrior, Big Society patter that characterised his early days as leader and Prime Minister.

And it isn’t beacuse the job is finished. The Tories have made some headway with gay voters, but they still trail badly with women, the young, notherners and non-whites. Forty per cents of voters say they would never vote Tory.2

The Campaign

The Tories, like Labour, are sticking to the obvious campaign soundbites. They trumpet their leadership and economic record (low inflation, record employment, real wages finally increasing). They flaunt a letter from 100 business leaders who support their policies (well, rich business leaders would say that, wouldn’t they).

See also:  Election A to Z --- Q is for Quotes

They promise to cut some taxes3 in parallel with the deficit if they are re-elected. They will help the young to buy property. They try to establish that the NHS remains safe in their hands.4 Cameron even volunteered to retire if the people will just elect him once more.

What the Tories don’t do is mention gay marriage. They don’t talk much about Europe, apart from the promised referendum. They don’t even talk about foreign policy. It’s the economy, stupid. They are the ones nasty enough to sort it out.

Austerity has polarised opinion, and the growing discomfort of a significant minority with the EU, immigration and the general detachment of the political classes – as exemplified by the rise of UKIP – means that the Tories can’t reclaim the centre ground vacated by Labour when Tony Blair retired.5

They must protect the right just as Labour, pushed by the SNP and the Greens, has to look to the left. It’s all terribly sensible, until you look at the polls. The recovery has not been felt by many, despite the statistical evidence, and the feel good factor is missing.

What’s the Big Idea?

The Tories are facing a near wipeout in Scotland, and can’t seem to make progress with lower middle-class and skilled working-class voters in the Midlands and the North. The young, particularly students, find them toxic.

Earlier in the year, it looked like a Grexit might push the fear of economic chaos further up the agenda. Perhaps this could have led to a Tory breakthrough. But like most things EU, the outcome was a muddled kicking of the can further down the road, and the crisis failed to materialise.

Next came talk of extending the Right to Buy legislation (and the associated discount of up to 70% on the market price) from council houses to housing association properties. The worry here is that those further up the social scale – looking to buy in the private sector – would feel excluded. Margaret Thatcher had to overrule similar objections when introducing the original scheme.

The policy has in the end made it into the manifesto published earlier this week, but it’s too early to tell whether it will have any effect. If it doesn’t, can the Tories hope to win?

A glimmer of hope

And yet no party ahead on leadership and the economy has ever failed to win an election. The Tories are hoping for, and possibly expecting,  a repeat of 1992, when all the polls suggested that Labour would win, but the voters decided at the last moment to hold their nose and give John Major a second chance. They are relying on Milliband playing up to his role as Neil Kinnock mark two.

So the Tories feel confident in their strategy. In a beauty contest between and them and Labour, they would probably be correct, but this election could produce the lowest-ever combined share of vote for the two main parties.

There are five choices in England now, and one of the nationalist parties is on course to win the third-largest total of seats. Another coalition with the Liberal Democrats is the best they can hope for.

To see more of our election coverage, please go to our Election A to Z page.

See also:  Election A to Z --- U is for UKIP

Until next time.

  1. James Forsyth brought this to my attention in a January 2015 article in the same paper; his article mentions 13 tests but describes only 12 of them, and the original piece by Osborne seems lost; I’ve reviewed James’ scores for the current election campaign []
  2. Admittedly, 33% say they would never vote Labour []
  3. Inheritance tax, additional rate tax, raising the personal allowance and the 40% tax threshold []
  4. Public satisfaction with the NHS just reached a record high []
  5. The Coalition has been able to do this to a certain extent because of the softening effect of the Lib Dems, but during the election, clear blue water between the two parties is required []

Mike Rawson

Mike is the owner of 7 Circles, and a private investor living in London. He has been managing his own money for 35 years, with some success.

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Election A to Z — T is for Tory

by Mike Rawson time to read: 4 min