Right leaning but avowedly mainstream pundits – inasmuch as such beings still exist nowadays – have been poring over the Tory Party’s problem of how to put together the kind of popular vote that can get them over the win line of 325 seats in a future General Election. The subject has recently taxed Paul Goodman and Matthew d’Ancona, both published in the Telegraph.
Observing this has been Labour supporting, but fiscally cautious, Hopi Sen, who has concluded that these august pundits are not only looking at the problem from the “wrong end of the telescope”, but are ignoring the practicalities – what the Tories actually do, rather than the froth and gloss – and instead obsessing with how that mythical floating voter perceives the party.
As Hopi says, if the politics are effective, and perceived by the electorate so to be, then those vital swing votes – and the seats they will shift from one stripe to another – will surely follow. Few of the 1979 or 1983 undecided voters gave a flying foxtrot whether the Tories were posh, elitist, or establishment types. And John Major was returned in 1992 not by Labour triumphalism, but straightforward money worries.
At those times, the Tories had no problem in assembling a majority. Tick off the factors: opposition exhausted and/or divided, economy bad but then improving, new and popular ideas (home ownership, union reform, share ownership), leadership unequivocally committed to supporting the country’s interests, a party united behind its leader, and the worry that the other lot would cost you more.
But not only are some Tories worried about their image, as Hopi points out, they are now also playing catch-up as the party becomes increasingly fractious – potentially in a far more destructive manner than in the Major years – and the wider Conservative Movement begins to infiltrate and influence the Tories into swinging right and embarking on needless campaigns.
That in turn makes an increasing number of Tory strategists nervous about UKIP (which in reality has taken votes from all three major parties), so some within the party think that whatever movement they have made to the right is not sufficient. But the electoral arithmetic is clear: UKIP aren’t going to win any seats, and all the trimming will do is to carve out more opportunities for Labour.
The only unknown here is how the Lib Dems will be able to decouple themselves from the Tories and retain a decent vote share, something which is clearly beginning to exercise that Party’s leadership. But in the meantime, the Tories are lacking ideas, discipline and coherence, and no amount of navel gazing can avoid the reality: parties in that state do not win elections.
And it is not clear how they can pull that round any time soon.