Conservative Party

What my focus groups of wavering Tory voters said about the leadership race

By Lord Ashcroft

As MPs prepared to begin the process of narrowing the field of leadership contenders this week, I conducted focus groups in two rather different Conservative seats – leafy Putney and leave-y Thurrock – to see what wavering Tory voters made of the race.

Just as there were mixed views about Theresa May’s tenure in Downing Street – “she was in an impossible position and had no loyalty from her party;” “it was her choice to take that position and she made mistakes;” “history will be kind to her because she stayed strong in an absolute shitstorm” – there were varying degrees of optimism as to whether her successor would be able to get out of the Brexit rut. Few thought a new Prime Minister would be able to persuade more MPs to back a version of the Withdrawal Agreement (“the problem wasn’t personal, the problem was the deal”), but most leave voters and even some remainers thought there might now be scope for progress with the EU: “They say they’re not going to negotiate any more so you get the impression there won’t be a chance for a new leader to get a different deal, but somehow I think there will be. A new person will be able to have a new discussion;” “Someone with a will to do it. You got the impression that Theresa May was dragging her feet at times;” “You’ve got to have faith, you’ve got to give them a chance. The way they conduct themselves initially is the key thing;” “There’s a lot of room for improvement… You need someone with a bit of personality, a bit of persona.”

What, if anything, had people noticed about the contest to find such this individual? “All I’ve heard is someone sniffing cocaine. I can’t think of his name (more…)

The space for a new party isn’t just in the centre of politics

By Lord Ashcroft

Divided though we are, one thing everyone in the country seems to agree on is that they are sick to the back teeth of our political class. Individual politicians still sometimes inspire support or admiration – Theresa May not least among them, it should be said. But depending on your point of view, politicians have either failed to deliver on a clear and unambiguous promise to the voters, or spent two years indulging their own obsessions at the expense of things that really matter, or some combination of the two. Whatever the outcome of the current debacle, one casualty could be the parties as we know them today, with The Independent Group – in its new guise as Change UK – in the vanguard of a new political order.

Bring it on, many will think. But beyond general exasperation, what is the real nature of people’s discontent? Where is the real space for a new movement, and what could this new world look like? (more…)

Mind the Gap(s): why the Brexit debacle has put both Labour and the Tories under threat from new parties

By Lord Ashcroft

This article first appeared in the Mail on Sunday.

 

Ten years ago, when I was responsible for the Tories’ private polling as the party’s Deputy Chairman, we often asked voters to choose from a selection of words and pictures those which they most associated with the main parties. The Conservative selection would invariably include a picture of an aristocratic family standing outside an enormous house, and other indications that the party was for the rich and out of touch with ordinary people. Labour’s often featured a fat man lazing on a sofa, usually signifying those who lived this way rather than going to work.

Over the last month I have repeated this exercise – and if a week is a long time in politics, in terms of the party brands the last decade might as well not have happened (more…)

Focus group bingo and the bottomless Pringle tube of outrage: Day 4 of my conference diary

By Lord Ashcroft

I have often thought of creating a game of Political Focus Group Bingo (for which the market would be admittedly niche) in which the players would tick off words and phrases on their cards as they were uttered by the focus group participants. One of these would be ‘Australian-style points system’ – a locution you will hear more often than not once the subject of immigration has come up, as it has in practically every group I have done since I began my research four general elections ago. Until the referendum the point was not so much that people thought the volume of immigration was too high (though many did) as that we did not have control over it or the ability to decide who could and could not come in (more…)

Moggmania, Churchill’s moon men and the condition of the people: Day 3 of my conference diary

By Lord Ashcroft

Can the Conservatives win in Canterbury, Middlesbrough and Midlothian at the same time? The question was debated by fine minds under the auspices of Policy Exchange, whose director Dean Godson declared it the pre-eminent question “of this conference, of our time, of our epoch”. And the verdict? For the analyst and commentator James Frayne “there are nuances… but I think the answer is no.” No such pessimism from Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houghton or Kirstene Hair, “one of the twelve newly elected Scottish MPs who were proud to impose a Conservative government on England last year.” For her, the answer was a clear message: the Scottish Tories were the only Unionist party, so “whether urban or rural, they knew exactly what they were voting for. Some people held their nose while voting Conservative but they did it because they knew what they were getting (more…)

Blackpool nostalgia, the Badgers’ Vote, and the vortex of perpetual agitation: Day 2 of my conference diary

By Lord Ashcroft

There is no denying that conference-goers are divided on a question that goes to the very heart of our identity and outlook: do we miss the seaside? For all the advantages of Birmingham and Manchester, there are those who miss the bracing days of Blackpool and Bournemouth, and a salty windswept stroll along the promenade before the day’s intrigue and plotting. At my first Tory conference in the northern resort more than forty years ago I found digs in one of the guesthouses along the seafront from the Winter Gardens, lacking in those days the funds to stay at the Imperial Hotel with the grandees (more…)

What voters notice, dancing in Africa, and the Russians: Day 1 of my conference diary

By Lord Ashcroft

One of the most telling parts of the research I do is hearing from voters which political stories have stayed in their minds from the last few weeks and months. Notably, one of the first things to be mentioned in all our focus groups this month was the Labour antisemitism row. This is significant because it is the sort of story that usually stays well inside the beltway. The fact that normal people with a limited appetite for politics raise it spontaneously is a bad sign (more…)

Why Brexit isn’t enough to win the Tories the next election

By Lord Ashcroft

This piece was first published in the Mail on Sunday.

Theresa May can arrive at the Conservative Conference today with a certain spring in her step following her slapdown of EU leaders after the Salzburg summit: my latest research shows that voters think the PM is right to threaten to leave without a deal rather than seek further compromise with an intransigent EU.

Yet with her MPs trying to pull her in two directions at once, this could be the most difficult Tory gathering for many years. Even so, she and her party need to look beyond Brexit and beyond the conference hall. Since the referendum it has become almost a cliché to say we are a divided country, but we are at odds over more than just Brexit: we are split over the whole past decade of political life (more…)

The Two Divides: Austerity, Brexit, and the problem of building a winning coalition

By Lord Ashcroft

Few expect the Conservative Conference that begins in Birmingham today to be dominated by anything other than Brexit. Hard though this may be to avoid, it would be a wasted opportunity. As my latest research shows, if Brexit is at the top of the government’s agenda the same cannot be said for the voters: the next election will be about other things.

 

The parties and leaders

We asked people how likely they thought it was that they would end up voting for each party at the next general election. On average, those who voted Conservative last year put their chances of doing so next time at 77/100, however they voted in the referendum; 2017 Labour voters felt more inclined to stay with their party if they had voted Remain (more…)

Capital Punishment? The Conservatives and the 2018 London elections

By Lord Ashcroft

The local government elections on 3 May 2018 will be the first big test of voters’ opinion since they deprived the Conservatives of their majority in parliament last June. Among the most closely watched results from the authorities across Britain will be those from the 32 London boroughs.

Ten of these are currently under Conservative control, including the party’s two local government flagships: Westminster, run by the Tories since its creation in 1965, and Wandsworth, in Tory hands since 1978, even though, during the Blair years, all three of the borough’s MPs were Labour.

My latest research – including a 3,000-sample poll and focus groups in eight boroughs over the last month – has explored in detail how London voters see things, both locally and nationally, as the May elections approach.

The backdrop to the London elections is not propitious for the Conservatives (more…)