Conservative Party

Will voters still give Boris the benefit of the doubt? We’re about to find out

By Lord Ashcroft

Six years ago, I published some research entirely dedicated to the Boris Johnson phenomenon. The title of the report – Are You Serious? – encapsulated two things: the reaction of Boris-sceptics to the idea that he might rise to an office greater than the London Mayoralty, and the question many voters, intrigued but not altogether convinced by this unusual adornment to public life, were asking of Boris himself.

We know the answer to the second question, if it was ever in doubt: yes, deadly. His pursuit of the top job has been skilful and relentless. His apparently playful approach to life masks a fierce determination, which voters can sense. If the achievement of his ambition were not itself proof enough, his ruthless remaking of the government around his central policy of a Halloween Brexit puts to rest any doubt about the seriousness of his intent.

Strangely, the first question – can this possibly be happening? – is alive and well among elements of the commentating class, as well as some of his adversaries (more…)

My choice for the next PM

By Lord Ashcroft

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Like most Conservatives, I wanted Brexit wrapped up and out of the way under Theresa May’s stewardship, allowing a new leader to begin a new chapter, reinvigorate the party and – at long last – change the subject.

So much for that. Far from drawing a line under the unhappy recent history of British politics, the new Prime Minister will face exactly the same problem as his predecessor. He will also face the same parliamentary maths and apparently, despite the personnel changes in Brussels, the same stance from the EU. The first question on the minds of many Conservative Party members as they ponder over their ballot papers, then, will be who is finally going to get Brexit signed, sealed and delivered.

For Boris backers, the answer is clear: we must leave on 31 October, come what may, do or die. Only by convincing the EU that we are serious about this will they move – and if they don’t, we’ll be out. There is no other way to escape the “hamster wheel of doom”. Hold your horses (or your hamsters), say the Boris-sceptics: now is a time for cool heads and calm negotiation, not heroic ultimatums. Plan for no deal, but talk.

The problem with choosing between these two approaches is that there are so many unknowns in both scenarios (more…)

Hunt v. Johnson – what Britain thinks

By Lord Ashcroft

While Boris and Jeremy make their pitch to Conservatives around the country, I have been giving their tyres a good kicking. My latest poll of more than 8,000 people shows in detail what people make of the two candidates vying to be their next Prime Minister – particularly their appeal to voters who are not already Tories.

 

Who would be best – and who will win?

Asked which candidate would make the best PM, 34% of all voters said Jeremy Hunt, and 27% said Boris Johnson, with 39% saying they didn’t know. Remain voters overall prefer Hunt by a 45-point margin; Remainers who voted Conservative in 2017 do so by 57% to 19% (more…)

Voters would love Boris round for dinner – but even his biggest fans would pick Hunt to babysit their children

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in the Mail on Sunday

 

Boris Johnson generates enthusiasm of a kind I don’t recall seeing for any other Conservative politician. On the other hand, he drives his many opponents nuts. Antipathy for Jeremy Hunt is largely confined to those who don’t forgive him for his firm stance during the 2016 junior doctors’ strike – but Conservatives tend to like and respect him, rather than queue eagerly round the block to catch a glimpse, as they do for his leadership rival.

So if neither candidate has what we might call the Hillary Clinton problem – opponents who would walk over hot coals to stop her but no matching passion on her own side – nor does either hit the sweet spot of inspiring Tory fervour without galvanizing the opposition.

On the face of it, the two potential Prime Ministers offer very different things (more…)

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…)