The Tories are coming to believe in David Cameron's election hunch

But they won't know the truth until it's too late

14 February 2015

9:00 AM

14 February 2015

9:00 AM

‘You did this,’ David Cameron repeatedly declared to Tory donors as he reeled off a list of the government’s achievements at the Black and White ball on Monday night. Three months before the general election, the atmosphere at this lavish fundraiser at the Grosvenor House Hotel was self-congratulatory and more upbeat than perhaps it should have been, considering the polls. As guests made ever larger bids in the fundraising auction, the mood was one of confidence that the Tories would be in office again after May. By the end of the evening, there was heady talk of a Tory majority.

But it is not the donor class who will determine whether the Tories have the seats to govern alone. Rather, it is lower middle-class and skilled working-class voters, the so-called C1s and C2s, and especially those in the marginals of the West Midlands and the north west.

The last time the Tories passed the magical 326-seat mark, 23 years ago, John Major won a majority of lower middle-class votes. But at the last election, there was only a 3 per cent swing among this group to the Tories. The party’s support has fallen among these voters in this parliament, down to 30 per cent in the last ICM poll. With the skilled working class, the story is even worse for the Tories: they are in third place with C2s, behind both Labour and Ukip.

This weakness is one reason why it is so hard to see the Tories winning a majority. It all adds to the current Westminster consensus that the chances of either of the main parties winning outright is receding. Both Labour and the Tories remain in the low to middle thirties in the polls. In this war of the weak, each is pinning their electoral hopes on the other party’s flaws.

There are those who break from the consensus that no party can win a majority. David Cameron is convinced that, as in the 1992 election campaign on which he cut his teeth, there will be a late rally for the Tories as voters minds’ are focused by the prospect of Miliband as prime minister.

The problem with Cameron’s theory is that the Tories won’t know whether he’s right until it is too late. At the moment, the polls show the Tories drawing level, but several members of the Downing Street operation had hoped that they would have a clear lead by now. They are also not making progress at a sufficient pace to secure a majority — unless something dramatic happens. Of course, events could intervene on the Tories’ behalf. If Greece left the euro, something that those in the government who are monitoring the situation reckon is a one in four chance, it would drive the economy up the agenda and make the Tories’ warnings of ‘chaos’ seem far more real. In these circumstances, it is quite conceivable that they might win outright.

But without some external trigger, the Tories are going to need something to enable them to break out of the inch-by-inch trench warfare of British politics. The Tory policy offer for the election is still being put together. Jo Johnson, the head of the No. 10 policy unit and Boris’s younger brother, is leading the work on it. Johnson, a former FT journalist, is a clever, well-organised thinker. But he is not particularly radical or ideological. However, the Tory manifesto will need things in it that can capture voters’ imaginations and win over those crucial C1 and C2 voters.

So, where will the game-changer come from? The most obvious candidate is a bold plan being hatched by Iain Duncan Smith to extend the right to buy to the 2.5 million housing association homes. At present, housing association tenants are offered very limited discounts and can only buy properties that their association has acquired since 1997. Offering them a substantial discount to buy their own homes — under right to buy, the discount can be as much as 70 per cent — would show that the Tories remain a party committed to aspiration and a property-owning democracy.

A more radical version of this scheme is being discussed, whereby every housing association property is transferred to its tenant if they have been in work for a year. The government would receive a proportion of the profits when the property is sold on. The money raised would then be used to fund the building of more social housing, which would be spread out rather than concentrated in large estates.

However, the Tory high command does not seem that enthusiastic about Duncan Smith’s idea. One of those who will help determine what goes in the manifesto cautions that it is a ‘blunt instrument of a policy’. There is also concern that, especially in its more radical form, it would irritate people renting in the private sector who can’t afford to buy their own home. They would be excused for wondering where their reward was for having worked hard and paid rent all those years.

Such objections echo those voiced about the original Thatcher right to buy scheme. As Charles Moore, her official biographer, records, she was worried that if the discount offered to council house tenants was too great it would annoy what she called ‘our people’, who were buying their homes on the open market and at full price. But, as Thatcher came to realise, these objections were ‘narrow and unimaginative’. If the Tories were to make Duncan Smith’s policy part of their 2015 manifesto, they would electrify the election. They would show that — in the tradition of Macmillan and Thatcher — the party remains committed to expanding home ownership.

Three months from polling day, the Tories are level in the polls. This is not a bad position for incumbents to be in, and suggests that they may still be the largest party in the Commons after the election. But if the Tories are to break the stalemate that is British politics, they will need to come up with a truly brave offer. Over and above any concerns about Miliband and Balls and the economy, they must give people a positive reason to vote for them.

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  • greggf

    According to The Times, the Tories and IDS are really going to expand their “Something for Nothing” policies instead of selling Council Houses.
    That reminds me of that story about giving away Jaguar cars to boost employment, Industry, wages…..!


  • Peter Stroud

    Labour just does not look like a government in waiting: and fiascos, such as the pink van does them nothing but harm. Miliband is coming over as an old Labour Marxist, and a pawn of the unions. It is very difficult not to remember the days of Foot, and the Welsh windbag.

    • Mukkinese

      You really should read more widely.

      The memes you repeat, and seem to believe, are merely the silly spin of rightwing journalists. If all you do is feed your own prejudices then you will not see the world as it really is…

      • Stephen52

        And left-wing journalists never indulge in the “silly spin of rightwing journalists”? Silly spin (and prejudice) being somehow exclusive to right-wingers?

        As a crash course in the diversity training of silly spin (and prejudice) I’d recommend you spend an evening reading any 20 or so of Polly Toynbee’s articles from The Guardian (you’ll need a stiff drink or two).

        If you want to push the enevelope, try some Owen Jones and for the truly fearless, George Monbiot.

    • lakelander

      You’re right – it doesn’t look like one but due to the distortions of our first-past-the-post-system by UKIP and the unfair electoral boundaries they can win by default, however incompetent they might be.

      • Pacificweather

        What is unfair ab

        • tjamesjones

          surely it’s not beyond the wit of man to adjust boundaries in a mechanistic manner so that they are indeed the same size within some small margin of error. It’s not really a hard technical problem, it’s a political problem because some parties (Labour and possibly Lib Dems) benefit from the status quo – for whatever arbitrary historical reason.

          • Pacificweather

            It didn’t do Labour any good in 2010 so perhaps they are just right at the moment.

          • tjamesjones

            of course it helped labour in 2010. labour gets less votes for more seats across England compared to the Tories. google the results in Wikipedia.

          • Pacificweather

            Not as much an effect as the Tories in 1983. They lost 2% of their vote and gained 52 seats. Now that really is a multiplier. At the end of the day it’s all about the post codes. If you have the post codes you win if you don’t have the post codes you lose. At the moment no single party has the post codes. In a post code democracy there is no telling who has the advantage until the votes are counted. In 1951 Labour got the most votes but they did not have the areas (pre-post code) and the Conservatives formed the government. This is the joy of a post code democracy. It’s all up for grabs every time. You know half the votes will be ineffective but you don’t know which half.

    • black11hawk

      What I found particularly ironic about that and also about Tristram Hunt and this ridiculous new ‘hate crime’ of ‘nun-dismissal’ is that they’ve essentially been hoist by their own petard. Labour spent years bringing about a society in which it would be taboo to discuss or criticise certain things and now it’s backfiring on them.

    • berosos_bubos

      The BBC will be pulling out all the stops.

  • John Roy

    Bold plan? IDS? We are all £ucked!

  • Pacificweather

    Most new Housing Association properties were not built using Housing Association Grant but with private borrowing so it would cost the government a fortune to buy out the debt. It isn’t going to happen on any large scale. They could talk it up but that just makes it more damaging when they are subsequently exposed.

  • misomiso

    And whats the biggest issue for C1’s and C2’s?


  • Agreed. I’m not going to be voting Tory, but if I were still considering it, I’d be looking closely at their election offer and “more of the same” probably wouldn’t do it. Their vote share has collapsed because they’ve become just another muddy consensus party and a genuinely right-wing alternative has emerged to challenge them. They might as well go big at this point as otherwise they’ll be going home.

  • Mark Steven Conway

    As one of those renters who lives in London and can’t afford to buy the idea that the Conservative’s are thinking of essentially giving away free flats and houses sickens me. It woould represent for the the final break in the concept that the party supports hard workers and the triumph of the something for nothing culture which many of our political class use to bribe large parts of the electorate in order to win power. My objections are not narrow and unimaginative, it’s is based on the fact that between my partner and I, we have four jobs and work six to seven days a week and still can’t afford a studio flat near where we work. Yet the council tenants next door, under this policy, will receive a nice £450,000 gift; no doubt with a welcoming basket of assorted fruit and jams and a card from Ian and Dave thanking them for their vote. I guess when my neighbours retire back to their home country of the Ivory Coast, I am sure, even when they give HRMC part of the profit, they will still be able to buy something lovely in the more comfortable parts of Yamoussoukro.

  • Chingford Man

    As one of IDS’s constituents who has given away a small fortune over the years to rent privately in London (and who would never be allocated a council flat), why should a council tenant be gifted a property?

    Also, from a nakedly political perspective, how many council tenants today are potential Tory voters? I suspect fewer than in 1979. Sounds like a desperate suggestion.

    However, it’s not going to cost the Tories a vote from me as I’m definitely voting UKIP anyway.

    • TrulyDisqusted

      IDS doesn’t care about you, and he takes your vote for granted – what are your alternatives? Are you going to vote for Labour?

      There are of course many alternatives. There are lots of other parties, few of them desirable, and of course there are the often overlooked independents, who in an era of coalition governments must surely begin to punch above their weight in parliament?

      I won’t be voting Conservative again any time soon, because I no longer believe they best represent me. I won’t be bullied into voting for a party I don’t like through fear that another party I like even less might win because even though I didn’t vote for them, I somehow let them in.

      As a middle class, small business owner, all that I know is that no matter who gets in, it will be me and millions just like me who ultimately gets the bill for all our MPs (and half of Europe’s too) give aways to the “have’s” and the “have nots”.

      Being clear about this allows me the freedom to vote with my conscience. Dave and IDS mean less to me than I do to them and they, along with Nick and Ed are going to be disappointed in me.

      They have nothing to offer me and I must look elsewhere.

  • Terence Hale

    “The Tories are coming to believe in David Cameron’s election hunch”. You don’t understand the tape at the parliamentary dispatch box which is set for auto-replay, “Our long-term economic plan” for “ “Hardworking People” will bring April showers and May flowers. Tally-ho !

  • Fenman

    If they are to get elected they must win majority of the LMC and skilled aspirational workers. But neither their policies nor their marketing are attempting to do this. If they got out down the pub a bit more, they wd realise these key sectors are fed up with policies such as Overseas Aid at 0.7%, Defence cuts(this section of society provide the vast majority of the armed forces man power), pussy footing around the Islamic issue(all words , no action), lack of action on immigration and political correctness. Finally, they have lost faith in Cameron who is seen as always talking tough and backing down in action. Hence many life-long self-employed Tories in C1C2 areas have switched to UKIP.
    It is also far more difficult as a result of Blair’s cynical project to do whatever it took to increase Labour’s captive vote, notably by increasing immigration and the public sector workforce and bribing the long-term feckless unemployed, hence Labour has c30% of the vote locked in.

  • Jaria1

    Cameron must consider the over generous amount of Overseas aid to be more important than winning the election. Were this to be reduced to the UKIP level he would be able to lead a Conservative gvt. Without coalitions.
    Dont believe me ? Why not try a referendum