Peter Oborne

The mean machine

Peter Oborne reveals that the Tories have a secret weapon — the Voter Vault — which has identified the 900,000 swing voters the party needs to capture at the next election

Peter Oborne reveals that the Tories have a secret weapon — the Voter Vault — which has identified the 900,000 swing voters the party needs to capture at the next election

According to all objective criteria the Conservative party leadership ought to be very low in the water. The assassination of Iain Duncan Smith almost exactly 12 months ago has brought about numberless benefits: a new mood among fundraisers; the restoration of discipline and purpose in the parliamentary party; much higher morale on the ground. But it has had no effect on the polls. The Conservatives remain exactly where they were before, becalmed in the low thirties, seemingly heading for a third consecutive landslide defeat.

But a mood of optimism endures. Michael Howard, when he predicts victory, somehow conveys conviction. The Tory chairman Maurice Saatchi confidently forecasts a hung parliament. There is, of course, an element of perfunctory incantation in both cases — it is a ritual of democratic politics that even doomed leaders radiate optimism — but also an underlying confidence.

There can be no question that both men share a genuine belief that the Conservative party has been granted a special insight into the mystery of how to win next year’s general election. At first sight this belief appears irrational, bordering on the demented and a cause for concern. But Howard and Saatchi are both intelligent men. No understanding of current politics is complete which does not take into account the reasoning that lies behind their genuinely hopeful public demeanour.

Part of the solution is a machine that squats in Conservative Central Office in Victoria Street, the object of much homage, wonder and devotion. No ancient Roman shrine ever attracted so much reverence. It would be wrong to make too much of its merely mechanical qualities, prodigious though they are said to be.

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