Congratulations on your appointment. As you probably know, I argued against it. Nothing personal: I wanted to avoid a repeat of 2010, when the campaign was “run” by a group of people with different ideas, none of whom had ultimate authority. It seemed to me that bringing another player to the table which already accommodates David Cameron, George Osborne, Grant Shapps, Andrew Cooper, Stephen Gilbert, Craig Oliver and (sometimes) Steve Hilton could only make this problem worse – especially since the party at last seemed to have landed on a workable strategy, has a campaign plan to go with it and, importantly, is working in harmony.
But now that the decision has been made, I am, as someone who only wants a Conservative majority, keen to help. Here are a few points to bear in mind as you prepare to settle in.
1. We need to reach out, not just consolidate
To win a majority, we need to attract people who thought about voting Conservative in 2010 but decided against it, not just keep existing Tories on board. An obvious point, but one with important implications. As I found in my Project Blueprint research, these ‘Considerers’ – who did not vote Conservative in 2010 and would not do so tomorrow, but may do so in the future – trust Cameron and Osborne more than Miliband and Balls to run the economy, but do not think the Tories stand for fairness or opportunity. There are as many former Liberal Democrat voters who might be persuaded to switch to us as there are 2010 Tory voters who might switch to UKIP, and we need them both.
2. We’re right on the deficit, but to what end?
The voters who are in play agree with us intuitively on deficit reduction, however much they may dislike some of its consequences. But they usually see cutting the deficit only as a means of avoiding a Greek-style catastrophe, rather than part of a bigger plan. It is not clear to them what prize austerity will bring in a second Cameron term. For some, the need to take the unpalatable medicine will be reason enough to vote Tory; others will want to be presented with more than a necessary evil.
3. It’s about anxiety as well as aspiration
Re-establishing ourselves as the party of aspiration does not mean presenting ourselves as the party of rugged individualism. As my Blue Collar Tories research found, many people – I called them the Suspicious Strivers – hold Conservative values but see the Tory Party as being for people who have achieved material success; less so for those who do the right thing and have little to show for it. They feel their position is precarious. What the strivers want, as much as anything, is reassurance – that doing the right thing will be worth their while, and that if they needed help, deserving cases would get priority.
4. Be positive, and don’t rely on Ed Miliband
David Cameron is the Conservatives’ biggest single asset and continues to trounce Ed Miliband in the leadership ratings. But while many people will vote Conservative because of Cameron, others will vote Labour despite Miliband. Aggressively pointing out his flaws, which they can see anyway, will not change their vote – but, as in 2010, it will represent a missed opportunity to show why they should support us instead.
5. Take a measured approach to the defectors
Around a third of 2010 Conservative voters say they would not vote Tory in an election tomorrow – but they are more likely to say they don’t know how they would vote than that they would support a particular party, and they are as likely to say they would go to Labour or the Lib Dems as to say they would go to UKIP. Europe is a major issue for some of them, but not all, or even most. Some have lost out from the cuts, some feel no party is on their side in life, some are worried about particular issues. Most would rather see a Conservative government than any of the alternatives. Direction and grip are the best antidotes.
6. The Liberal Democrats are not finished yet
I would be surprised if the Lib Dems really do only achieve only the 9% vote share that polls currently suggest. Incumbency is still likely to work to the advantage of sitting MPs; my polling in marginal seats has found that when asked specifically about their own area, people in Lib Dem-held constituencies are much more likely to say they will stay with the party.
While Conservative-inclined voters think the Liberal Democrats have too much power within the government, most others think they have too little. Some are so frustrated with the compromise of coalition that they are put off the Conservatives altogether. But many, including many who voted Tory, are glad the Lib Dems are there, however ineffectual they seem to be.
7. It can be done
To win a majority, the Tories need to keep their loyalists, win back their defectors, keep those who have been attracted since 2010 and win over those who are only considering the party. Though it may not be possible to appeal to every part of this Conservative universe at the same time, I concluded in Project Blueprint that we could square the circle if we applied four tests for all activity. Does it show the right priorities for the country? Does it show strong leadership? Does it show we’re on the side of the right people (and if necessary, make the right enemies)? Does it offer some reassurance about our character and motives?
Finally, I know you understand as much as anyone that it’s never a good thing when the adviser is the story. That being the case, I’m sure you’ll get on with the job and stay out of the limelight. Meanwhile, I’ll be following progress closely and will no doubt have more to say as things unfold.