Conservative Party

State of the Nation: my new polling on the political landscape and the battle lines for the next election

By Lord Ashcroft

The Conservative Party conference that opens today takes place at a more volatile and unpredictable time than any previous gathering I can remember. My new research, including an 8,000-sample poll, helps to make sense of what is going on by showing what the voters themselves make of the unfolding drama.

 

The Brexit Saga, part 94

When asked what they would most like to happen with Brexit, nearly eight in ten Conservative Leave voters choose Boris Johnson’s position of leaving the EU on 31 October with or without a deal. However, only 32% of them think this is the most likely outcome. One in five of them think we will leave after the current deadline, and nearly a quarter believe we will end up remaining in the EU. Overall, 36% back the PM’s policy, including six in ten 2017 Conservatives, nearly seven in ten Leave voters overall, and more than half of Labour Leavers. A further 15% said they would prefer to leave with a good deal even if this meant waiting beyond October, and nearly four in ten – including three quarters of remainers and just over half of Tory remainers – said they would like to see the UK remain in the EU (more…)

The public’s verdict on our political class? They waver between fury and contempt

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in the Mail on SundayThe full report and data tables are below.

On the face of it, the government is in real trouble. The Supreme Court ruling against the Prime Minister follows a succession of parliamentary defeats, defections, expulsions and daily headlines about turmoil and chaos. But it is a good rule of thumb in politics that the noisier it gets, the more it pays to take a step back, a deep breath, and a good look at the bigger picture.

My latest research, published today, looks at the fundamentals: how voters have reacted to the drama not just of the last few weeks but the years since the referendum, and how this week’s events fit into the longer story. For many people, and not just among those who backed Leave in the increasingly distant 2016 referendum, that story is one of frustration and failure – or, worse, deliberate actions to delay Brexit for as long as possible or stop it altogether. That is the context in which many see the Supreme Court’s decision. Many of the Brexit supporters we spoke to were not so much angered as bemused by the ruling: “they seem to have made up a law and found Boris guilty of breaking it (more…)

What my latest focus groups say about the twists and turns of the Brexit drama

By Lord Ashcroft

As last week’s parliamentary drama unfolded, I decided to find out how things seemed to the people on whose behalf it was supposedly being enacted – namely the voters, in the shape of focus groups in Barnet and St Ives.

It was no surprise that people were sharply divided over their new Prime Minister. For many Labour voters he was “dangerous”, a “charlatan”, “bullying”, “running the country into the ground” and “trying to baffle people with poshness;” “he’d be an amazing character if he was fictional.” But Conservative remain voters also had mixed views: while some thought he was divisive, dictatorial and untrustworthy (“I don’t think he’s as proper as some MPs – he can probably go rogue”), for others he was colourful, “flavoursome” and “quite statesmanlike compared to the rest. If you think about how Britain is presenting itself on the international stage, who else would have the personality and persona to stand up and be heard?” “His inauguration speech was actually quite rousing. I thought, we are where we are, but he’s got the right attitude, he wants to try and fix some things.”

A few were less positive than they had once been: “initially I felt it was a good thing, but after what’s happened in the past 24 hours I don’t know. He’s playing a very dangerous game and I’m concerned the game he’s playing could hand the keys to Jeremy Corbyn, which is my worst nightmare (more…)

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…)