Message

The polling about the Tory challenge is absolutely clear...

The barrier between the Conservative Party and voters isn't so-called 'right-wing' views:

Only 1% say "extreme views" on crime deter them from supporting the Conservatives;

Only 2% worry about Tory immigration policies;

Only 8% are put off by Tories 'going on too much about Europe'.

Neither are voters worried that the Conservative Party is too old-fashioned or 'bigoted':

Only 2% say Conservative attitudes to women are a big barrier;

Only 1% identify attitudes towards ethnic minorities or gay people.

These poll results come from a YouGov poll for ConservativeHome, ran on 5th October 2012. The precise question asked was "Which, if any, of the following things do you like least about the Conservative party?" Respondents were permitted to identify up to THREE answers.

The big barrier between the Conservative Party and voters is a sense that the Tories don't care enough about those struggling in life...

28% say the Conservatives "don't care enough about the very poor and vulnerable"...

28% say the Tories "don't care enough about the NHS and other public services"...

41% - the top concern - see the main problem as the Conservatives being "the party of the rich".

John Major

What was the secret of 1992 when the Conservative Party won more votes than any party has ever won before or since?

1
Popular and relatively new leader
2
Clear need for party of economic rescue
3
A clear working class appeal
4
Strong message on tax cuts
5
A weak opponent who was heavily targeted

At he heart of this ConservativeHome plan to win the next election are three Ms: Message, Manifesto and Machine. We need to refresh all three. We need a manifesto that addresses the great economic and social challenges of our time. We need a machine that ensures we have a better get-out-the-vote and voter contact operation. And we need a message that resonates.

What is our current message? What is our brand? Are we the party of competitive capitalism or of big business? Are we primarily the party of freedom (protecting civil liberties and cutting the size of the state) or are we the party of control (restricting immigration and taking a tough approach to crime)? Are we a pro-EU or EU-sceptical party? Are we the party that emphasises individual liberty or family and community bonds? Are we a party that thinks most about the aspirational classes and those young people starting off in life or do we lean towards protecting those who already have homes, pensions and savings? Are we the party of Thatcherism or of Cameron? Are we an ideological or pragmatic party? We are probably a hotpotch of all of these things but it is a hotpotch. Our identity is not particularly clear. It is probably accurate to say that most British people do see us as the party of Thatcherism. A tough-minded party. Largely southern and pro-market. Slightly old-fashioned. The party that the country turns to after Labour has messed things up.

David Cameron has, of course, tried to suggest the big Conservative idea is the Big Society. Intellectually it is a compelling idea – we are, after all, the party of Edmund Burke and therefore the party of the small platoons that lie between the individual and the state. But it’s not an idea that has captured the public imagination or has been successful on the doorstep.

The process behind ConHome’s majority project is set out in point ten of this plan. We are at the beginning of the process and haven’t got all of the answers to many of the questions we are raising but our early intuitions – informed by early polling research – is the simple suggestion that we start to craft ourselves as the party of strength and compassion. We start to think of ourselves as a party equally committed to prosperity and solidarity. We should observe what we might call the 50% rule. 50% of the time we reinforce our Thatcher era strength as the party that does tough things. We cut waste, we support entrepreneurs, we fight crime, we control immigration, we are intolerant of welfare fraud. We are the party of what Shirley Robin Letwin called the “vigorous virtues”. But for the other 50% of the time we address the concern that we might be the party of the head but we’re insufficiently the party of the heart. 50% of the time we must focus on social justice. We need to convince people that we won’t abandon them in tough times.

Becoming a party of solidarity means that there has to be a realisation that it’s not enough to be the party of aspiration. Solidarity includes a commitment to the NHS, a commitment to the basic state pension, a commitment to help people who’ve fallen on hard times and a commitment to never, ever give up on people. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic rightly love stories of people who’ve broken through glass ceilings, who’ve triumphed against the odds and have travelled from the wrong side of the tracks to the top of society. But most people will never rise high and fast. Most people want a helping hand from government rather than a government that leaves them alone. Once we’ve cut the waste from the welfare state Conservatives should never resent the safety-net. We should rejoice in it.

It is a privilege to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. Moreover, as the economy recovers we should look to ensure the old, the sick and the disabled share in the nation’s bounceback. If we are to spend 50% of our time talking about strength and compassion we should also ensure that 50% of our compassionate message isn’t about providing ladders for the low-paid but also about improving the safety-net for those who will always need society’s help. We should present austerity as, yes, necessary for international competitiveness but also as essential for the survival of public services. The greater threat to world class health and education provision isn’t today’s cuts but doing nothing to reduce what will otherwise be tomorrow’s escalating debt payments. Labour’s claim that Conservative want to bury public provision could not be more inaccurate. Only our reforms and the Coalition’s deficit reduction plan can put the NHS and our education system on a sustainable footing.

What can we learn from successful politicians of recent times?

Margaret Thatcher

Strength

Love her or loathe her, voters respected Margaret Thatcher’s strength and determination. When she said something, she meant it.

Ronald Reagan

Optimism

Napoleon argued that a leader was a dealer in hope. Reagan gave his country hope that dark times would pass and it would once again be 'morning in America'.

John Major

Aspiration

In 1992 John Major convinced people that the Conservative Party was on the side of people who, like him, had started off at the bottom of the social ladder and worked their way up.

Bill Clinton

Triangulation

An ugly word but Bill Clinton always presented himself as the moderate between two extreme positions. He and Blair offered ‘a third way’.

Tony Blair

Breadth

Tony Blair employed the language of the Right, promising to be “tough on crime” and pursue “one nation policies”. Successful politicians occupy the whole stage, not just the over-rated centre ground.

John Howard

The 50% Rule

‘Dance with the one who brung ya’; Australia’s highly successful PM argued that a politician should remember to spend at least as much time reassuring his base vote as reaching out to new, floating voters.

George W Bush

Targeting

George W Bush was the first politician to use ‘narrowcast’ new media to ensure niche voter groups learnt about policy commitments that broadcast media don’t have the space to report. Micro-targeting is vital in close elections.

Stephen Harper

Blue collarism

Canada’s Conservative PM took on the global warming lobby and won. He was convinced that blue collar voters would desert the Left once they realised the cost of climate change policies. He pursued a similar wedge agenda on crime and tax reliefs.

Angela Merkel

No-nonsense politics

Like Margaret Thatcher, ‘the Iron Frau’ has a science degree and a plain way of speaking that appeals to voters who have become tired of slipperiness in politicians.

John Key

Reassurance

New Zealand’s PM talks about the way that state benefits helped his mother when, early in his life, his own father died. He presented himself as a conservative who was not libertarian in his attitude to government. That he’d never leave people on their own.

Boris Johnson

Heineken-ism

You can’t bottle it but Boris is the Heineken Tory who reaches voters that other Conservatives cannot. He combines Reagan’s optimism, Howard’s 50% rule and Blair’s Breadth.