The Cameron election

5 January 2013

9:00 AM

5 January 2013

9:00 AM

One of the first things that the coalition did on taking office was to announce the date of the next election. This was meant to prevent destablising speculation about when the two parties might split apart and go to the country. It has largely succeeded in doing that. But there has been an unintended side-effect. Knowing the date of the next election has made all the parties far more obsessed with election planning than they normally would be.

When two or three Conservatives are gathered together, attention invariably turns to 2015. David Cameron’s New Year message read, deliberately, like the first part of an election address. In conversation with members of the Cabinet you would think that polling day is six months away, not 29.

This election speculation isn’t all talk, either. The Conservatives have already hired the man they want to run their campaign — the tough Australian strategist Lynton Crosby — and indentified the constituencies they need to win in 2015.

The outlines of the Tory campaign are already visible. One thing that stands out is that it will rely on David Cameron even more than it did at the last election. Some will question the wisdom of this, pointing out that the big billboard posters of him in 2010 backfired badly. Others will wonder what more there is to say about Cameron given that by 2015 he’ll have been leading the party for nearly ten years. But in Downing Street they are unmoved by these arguments. To their minds, the party would be mad not to rely on him given that he polls 18 points ahead of it.

People in the Liberal Democrat constituencies that the Conservatives need to take are going to hear a Cameron-centred message again and again. The emphasis will be that Tory candidates can offer what Liberal Democrat MPs cannot: a vote for them is a vote for Cameron to be returned to No. 10.

At a recent meeting of the Conservative political cabinet, Michael Gove made this argument. Intriguingly, he also implied that the Tories should offer to stand down against any Liberal Democrat prepared to endorse Cameron. However, it is highly unlikely that any Lib Dem will break ranks on this question. They know that doing so would split their party.


It is already apparent how the Lib Dems will respond to this Conservative approach. They’ll claim that without them, this would have been a government of the super-rich for the super-rich. One Lib Dem Cabinet minister told me recently, with visible excitement, that he has a drawer in his desk where he puts every potentially unpopular idea proposed by Conservatives. At the next election, he says, he’s going to take them all out and say to people if it wasn’t for us, you’d all have been fired at will and the rich would have had all the tax cuts. They’ll also argue that, without them, Cameron would have been held hostage by his ‘tea-party’ tendency. They’ll take the most outlandish statements made by Conservative MPs — putting all benefit claimants on food stamps, reintroducing Section 28 and the rest — and claim  that Cameron would have been forced into doing this if he was governing with his party alone.

The Conservative leadership worries that this could be a potent tactic. They have already discussed whether Cameron could be hurt during the election campaign by the charge that a majority Conservative government would be reliant on the support of those outside the political mainstream.

But there isn’t much they can do about this problem. The most outré Conservative MPs care little about whether their pronouncements help or hinder their leader; a hard core of them don’t bother to hide their contempt for him. But if Cameron attempted to have these MPs deselected, he would start an internal fight that he might well lose.

What tries to do instead is to show that he can transcend partisan politics. Those around him view his statements on Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough as of paramount importance because they demonstrate that he is more than just a tribal Conservative.

There are those in No. 10 who welcome the gay marriage fight for the same reason. They believe that the sight of Cameron facing down the more socially conservative elements of his party reassures swing voters.

Cameron’s internal critics deride this approach as being straight out of the Tony Blair playbook. But this is actually a far riskier approach for Cameron than it was for Blair. First, Blair’s hold over his party was far stronger than Cameron’s, thanks to the large majorities he won. Second, there wasn’t anywhere for disillusioned supporters to go.

By contrast, there is a right-wing alternative to the Conservatives: Ukip. Its support has tripled since the last election and almost half of the new supporters are former Tory voters. According to polling by Lord Ashcroft, 12 per cent of those who voted Tory in 2010 now intend to vote Ukip. If this number is as high in 2015, it impossible to see how Cameron can win a majority.

But Conservative strategists believe that the Ukip vote can be squeezed. They will emphasise that if you don’t vote Conservative, you’ll get Labour. When those who voted Ukip last time are asked what they would like the result of the next election to be, far more (43 per cent) plump for a Conservative government than a Labour one (31 per cent). More than half of those considering Ukip say they would change their vote to avoid putting Labour back in government.

Those around Ed Miliband dispute the idea that the Conservatives are really that confident about their leader’s appeal, pointing to Tory scepticism about televised leaders’ debates. They also emphasise that Cameron’s popularity is about half what it was when Miliband became Labour leader.

It is true that the Conservative high command is not as contemptuous of Miliband as it once was. His successful conference speech has forced them to take him more seriously. But they still believe that he comes off badly in comparison to Cameron. Privately, they stress that when it comes to the TV debates what they really want is a head-to-head between Cameron and Miliband.

The irony of the Cameroons continuing reliance on Cameron is that it is an admission of failure. If they had genuinely succeeded in changing voters’ perceptions of the party, they wouldn’t have to rely on the leader so much. But that is where they are and the reason why the next campaign will be the most presidential yet.

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Show comments
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Dent/100003072704387 Arthur Dent

    Cameron is not a Conservative.
    It’s UKIP not Ukip.

    • http://twitter.com/tristanpw1 TristanPriceWilliams

      I wonder how you classify Conservative. Was Mrs Thatcher a Conservative? Was Mr Heath? Was Alex Douglas Hume? Theyw ere all very different.

      The Tories chose Cameron because they had previously chosen leaders with as much appeal as cold porridge. The child Hague with his baseball cap; his great uncle look alike, and Something of the Night. Each had proved an electoral disaster. Even blue rinses it seems like a nice bum.

      So they chose what passes for good looking in the middle aged Tory world. The fact that he had nothing between his ears was a disadvantage, but it very nearly won an election for the Tories. It was indeed fortunate for him that Brown was as much use as a broken pencil in an internet word.

      So. mr Cameron is a Conservative, because he’s paid his membership fees and got himself elected their leader, by fair means or foul.

      There’s not much between him and that little creep Miliband and Cameron’s poodle Nick Whatsit.

      They are all utterly and completely lost in the world of grown up politics.

      Thank god we, in Scotland, have Mr Salmond.

      Oh, and UKIP/ukip…who cares? Bunch of loonies.

      • unsettledswan

        Alec Douglas-Home

      • http://twitter.com/watsoniabell Clive Watsonia Bell

        You’re far too literal in your interpretation of his comment. UKIP are in no way loonies, if you’d bother to read their manifesto you may discover that for yourself. Failing that, well, you’d be the only looney.

      • http://twitter.com/MackyDee1 Macky Dee

        So will you vote for Scotland to leave this much derised union of ours?

  • Vulture

    UKIP supporters have already decided that they would rather have a Labour Government than another dose of the treacherous Dave. Better an open Socialist than a closet one.

    • sir_graphus

      I don’t understand why.

      • radsatser

        Because many certainly the ex Conservatives see little to chose between both parties, as Cameron has simply been a Blair Mk2. A major defeat of the Conservative party will ensure that the Cameron liberal tendency will be expunged, and the party will be dragged to the right. The problem for the Conservative party is if those who have left for UKIP decide after breaking the voting habit of a lifetime, decide that they like what UKIP stands for, and chose not to return, the Conservative party is then permanently stuffed.

        • D B


      • Vulture

        radsatser puts it perfectly. Any true Tory should get up thinking ‘What can I do today to bring about the demise of David Cameron?’ and go to bed thinking ‘What have I done today to bring about the demise of David Cameron?’ Compared to that, nothing else matters.

      • procapitalist

        As a high earner and former Tory Voter I was better off under Labour (and the OBR stats back this up). It also cost me less to move house (stamp duty), less to buy things (VAT), and the size of the public sector spending as a % of GDP was lower under Labour. Crazy but all true.

        So, for me, I would rather have a Labour government that placates to higher earners (when in power they know not to attack the ‘golden goose’), rather than a Tory government constantly trying to show its not the party of the rich by bashing all wealth creators. It’s UKIP for me all the way…The only pro- business party left!

        • http://twitter.com/MackyDee1 Macky Dee

          How is UKIP pro-business. It’s not even a priority for them

          • procapitalist

            Read their manifesto…. Then, if you still query their pro business credentials, come back to me honey….

    • D B

      How’s the hangover?

  • redrum

    James, you don’t get it – we no longer care if we get Labour. We won’t be squeezed anywhere. We are former Tory voters who simply want a Tory party – UKIP seems to be that for many of us. At least we’re principled and we accept the consequences of our actions.

    • D B

      I care. Never mind Europe. It’s the economy…

  • Hostile

    The Conservatives are pretty much carrying on the policies of the last Labour government. Along with the BOE they are now leeching off savers and re-encouraging parasite BTL landlords who freeze out first-time buyers. A vote for UKIP is an “Up Yours!” vote to the thieving establishment and the creation of a solid hostile opposition front. I don’t care about Left/Right, they are all self-serving robber-barons and these government incompetents have spent the last decade undermining the people. Lets stand to them in numbers and begin show them who they work for. Either vote UKIP or outright refuse to vote. They will truly shit themselves. Lets take them on in a real fight.

  • Fred

    The Conservatives will be severely punished if Cameron abolishes marriage through this proposed redefinition, and given the how deep the sore is, (those pro-gay ‘marriage’ do not feel anywhere near as passionately about it, as those opposed), they won’t care who leads the next Government. The problem will continue beyond 2015 as Labour make further concessions towards ‘equality’, effectively abolishing Religious Liberty, and the Tories realise that they are still getting the blame, for having crossed this more even more significant Rubicorn in the first place.