Conservative Party

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…)

The Conservatives can’t rely on Brexit to win them the next election

By Lord Ashcroft

When the Conservatives won their unexpected majority at the 2015 general election many Tories felt it was a return to the natural order of things. Naturally, people had preferred sensible economic management to unaffordable spending plans. Of course they had chosen a Prime Ministerial Prime Minister over one whom they could barely imagine standing outside Number Ten. And if this was the world as it should be, 2017 must have been an aberration: a freak result that could be put down to the election’s unusual circumstances, a terrible Tory campaign, and Jeremy Corbyn’s sudden, bizarre and surely unsustainable status as a cult figure.

Like the mindset that said people would never really vote for that fashionable Mr. Blair – or, once they had, that they would soon repent of their silliness and restore the Conservatives to their rightful place in office – this would be a very dangerous assumption indeed for Tories to make (more…)

Where the parties stand – and more on that second EU referendum…

By Lord Ashcroft

Earlier this week I published the findings of my latest focus groups to explore how voters around the country saw things seven eventful months on from the general election. My new poll underlines that despite what has felt like the frenetic pace of politics for those who follow its twists and turns, surprisingly little has changed. There is little in the numbers to comfort either party.

In my post-election research for The Lost Majority I found only 28 per cent saying they thought the country was on the right track. This week that number is unchanged, with nearly half – including seven in ten of those who voted to remain in the EU – saying things are heading in the wrong direction (more…)

“Our cup has overflowed with political stuff. There’s only so much we want to take in”: my latest focus groups

By Lord Ashcroft

Of the 31 weeks since the general election – an experience most Conservatives would rather forget – how many have been good ones for the government? Much has happened in politics since June, and little of it could be said to have lifted the spirits. Yet the opposition has failed to open up the clear lead they might have expected over what has often seemed a hapless governing party, and surveys show the Tory rating to be all but unchanged since polling day. To help shed light on this curious state of affairs I held focus groups last week in three constituencies as politics once again got underway: Battersea, which the Conservatives lost last year to Labour; Walsall North, which they gained; and Wakefield, which they hoped they would gain but didn’t, despite seeing their vote share in the seat rise by eleven points (more…)

Theresa May’s speech: no “retreat in the face of difficulty”

By Lord Ashcroft

At the beginning of the week I wrote that most people would be paying even less attention to the party conferences this year than they usually do: with very few exceptions, memorable conference moments are the ones leaders wish had never happened.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, we have just witnessed one of those moments. The security implications aside, the so-called comedian interrupting Theresa May with a P45 at the supposed behest of Boris Johnson was a sideshow. But it was agonising to watch as she struggled to regain her voice; the Tory faithful in the hall and the most cynical reporters were at one in willing her to recover (more…)

My Conservative Conference Diary – Wednesday

By Lord Ashcroft

As if the conference were not already beset with rivalry and intrigue, we now have the Battle of the Lanyards. Most attendees wear their passes on bright blue cords sponsored by Tate & Lyle, but a rearguard action has been launched by British Sugar, keen to promote their home-grown product with a lanyard of their own, featuring the Union flag. Tate & Lyle are no strangers to the hazards of politics. Gerald Mason, the company’s senior vice president, once promised Liam Fox a lifetime supply of sugar if he could successfully conclude a free trade deal with Cuba, and on returning to the company’s HQ received a stern lecture about the Bribery Act. “I got a bit overexcited,” he explains (more…)

My Conservative Conference Diary – Tuesday

By Lord Ashcroft

An honour to welcome the Prime Minister to the annual ConHome party with the 1922 Committee, which has become a regular feature on the conference agenda. It was especially good of her to turn up on her birthday (what better way to celebrate the occasion?) She was on tub-thumping form, and took the opportunity of reminding the audience that the implementation phase of Brexit (not a “transition period”) would last no more than two years. As well as a rousing cheer she was met with an uplifting chorus of ‘Happy Birthday To You’, boldly led (I can exclusively reveal) by Nigel Evans. The event was generously sponsored by The City UK and Heathrow Airport, whose boss, John Holland-Kaye, she had met only recently: “When Philip and I were flying off on our summer holidays, the chief executive of Heathrow came and told us all about their future expansion. I suppose that’s what being Prime Minister is all about,” she said ruefully (more…)

My Conservative Conference Diary – Monday

By Lord Ashcroft

For a party organisation, a snap general election is a bit like an unannounced Ofsted inspection, as Paul Goodman sagely observed at yesterday’s ConHome fringe meeting on party reform. Quite a revealing one, in the most recent case. Many of the conclusions of the party’s election review focus on narrowing the gap between day-to-day operations and a war footing, and this makes sense – “a snap election should be snap for them and not for us,” as someone close to the process likes to put it. The plans for long-term engagement with younger and ethnic minority voters are also welcome, and yet… familiar. The sense of déjà vu comes from 2005, when I distinctly remember arguing that rather than burn through money on expensive and certainly pointless poster campaigns, proper investment should be made in enduring projects like this that would bear real fruit. In politics as in so many things, the seemingly urgent has a way of crowding out the important. Maybe this time it will be different (more…)