Alex Massie

Muesli Conservatism or Red-Meat Tories?

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Tim Montgomerie says it's "time to stop apologising for being Conservative" and calls for an end to this Red Tory nonsense and, instead, a return to "red-meat Toryism". As a committed Conservative it's not too surprising that Montgomerie thinks this is the way to stabilise a wobbly Tory campaign. The base always thinks the problem is that the party has strayed too far from orthodoxy. (This is true of almost all political parties). It's a perfectly respectable point of view that is also, I suggest, perfectly mistaken.

Apart from anything else such a strategy - banging on about europe*, crime and immigration - would delight Labour. Nothing they'd like better than to be able to point out that, despite the eco-makeover, the Tories really haven't changed and are just as nasty as you remember them being. Worse, a tilt to the right now, even rhetorically, undermines the entire point and presentation of Project Dave. What would it have all been for or about? And if you want to really confuse voters, present them with an entirely different face as soon as the election campaign begins. I'm not sure that's a good idea.

Montgomerie produces a Daily Mail poll to bolster his argument. According to it, 34% of people think the Tories' biggest problem is the lack fo a clear message (funny, I thought "We're not Gordon" was pretty clear) while just 17% say it's that they haven't changed. But these ideas are not necessarily contradictory. Indeed a lack of clarity about the latter may inform the former.

Nor is a finding that 45% say they'd be more likely to vote Tory if they take a "tougher" line on crime and immigration necessarily mean much. We're not told is this is a poll of all voters or just those who won't vote Tory, nor are we told how much more likely they'd be to respond to such talk. (Nor, of course, do we have a measurement of how many votes harping on about these matters might cost the party.) It's certainly not impossible that these issues could be useful to the Conservatives but I doubt they're the magic, transformational bullet the movement-types seem to think they may be.

At the very least they might ponder why Labour would be delighted if the Tories followed the base's advice? Perhaps Labour would be wrong. But what if they're not?

Then again, I'm not in the movement so my own biases are at play here. Nevertheless, the last three elections suggest that the Conservative base is not enough to win. The only circumstances in which it might be would be if there's a low turn-out and the elction becomes a girnding, attritional affair that will be won by the party with the best organisation and ability to deliver its voters to the polls on time.

*Europe in particular seems likely to be a vote loser. Not because there's great enthusiasm for Brussels, far from it, but because few people want to be reminded of the Tory mania with the EU, far less vote for a party that seems obsessed by the matter. In any case, most of the people who care most about europe will be voting Tory (or, I grant you UKIP) anyway. That's not where the battle will be won.

Similarly, how many extra votes are there in immigration? Perhaps most of the people who care most about it will be voting Tory anyway? If so then talking about it could also be a net vote loser. I don't know: I've not seen the numbers and so I could be wrong but this does not seem an impossible or even heroically unlikely thesis.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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