For some time it was not polite to utter the phrase ‘core vote’ at a Conservative party gathering, or within earshot of those loyal to the leadership. It referred, after all, to people who believed taxation was theft, who despised the European Union and all it stood for, who venerated the monocultural society and saw no difficulty with mediaeval punishments for criminals. To suggest the Tory party’s core vote was something to be cherished, respected and, indeed, catered for was akin to dropping an especially pungent fart at the proverbial vicarage tea party. Throughout the Hague years, and the Duncan Smith years, and (until now) the Howard months, this remained unchanged. ‘The core vote’, a senior shadow minister told me two or three years ago, ‘has nowhere else to go. What we need to concentrate on are the people in the middle who need to be tempted back to us.’
This ignorant notion had its roots in the entirely wrong analysis of the disaster in 1997, when some people decided the Tory party had lost the election not because John Major was one of the worst prime ministers in living memory, but because it was ‘too right-wing’. So you had Mrs May, at the party’s last Bournemouth conference two years ago, telling her troops that they were ‘nasty’. You have had something entitled a ‘gay summit’, at which the few Tories who could be bothered to be interested turned up to demonstrate their regard for homosexuals. You have had exertions by the Conservative Central Office candidates’ department to put as many black and female people on to the party’s candidates list, apparently irrespective of their merit. And, above all, you have had endless pussyfooting around on the crucial subject of whether or not to cut taxes, for fear of the effect this might have on the nation’s beloved public services.
This strategy did not exactly work.