One interesting nugget from Lord Ashcroft’s latest batch of polling is what his focus groups in two seats - Sutton and Cheam, and Elmet and Rothwell - had to say about the parties’ messages. Here’s a quick summary:
Conservative: ‘Finish the job and get back on track’.
Labour: ‘Vote Labour to save the NHS’, possibly adding ‘and stop the cuts’ or ‘and tax the rich’.
Liberal Democrat: ‘Vote Lib Dem to balance the extremes - to split the difference’.
Ukip: ‘Leave the EU and control immigration.’
Greens: ‘Vote Green to save the planet.’
Ashcroft was also struck by the cut-through achieved by the Greens’ now-defunct policy of decriminalising membership of terrorist organisations, and noted that while voters had absorbed the Tory message on the economy, not all of them were convinced it was going in the right direction.
On balance the parties should be reasonably pleased with these messages. The Tories use their ‘long-term economic plan’ to encourage voters to think about finishing the job, as the focus group mentioned, Labour is focusing on the NHS and the Tory threat to it, and the Lib Dems want to pitch themselves as the party that’ll make any government better. Ukip should be happy with their message, but the Greens will perhaps wish there was a bit more pick-up of their anti-austerity message, though saving the planet isn’t exactly unattractive as an offer. Of course, these are focus groups providing qualitative data, but that's very useful in working out how voters will make up their minds.
It’s interesting that the Tory party, which has become rather robotic on messaging about the long-term economic plan, has today deviated from that message to sell a ‘clear economic plan’ (see above). This cannot be a serious long-term shift, otherwise the party’s backbenchers will have to be reprogrammed.
But the repetitive long-term economic plan business does mean that the party has a very clear message to sell repeatedly. It is more difficult to pick up a message that Labour currently wants its backbenchers to parrot, which is unusual as the party is generally much better at message discipline than the Tories. The cost-of-living crisis facing hardworking families up and down the country isn’t being wheeled out as often as it was. If the party does want ‘vote Labour to save the NHS’, it might want to programme its parliamentarians to say it.