Michael Ashcroft’s mission began on 2 May 1997. Labour’s landslide victory left his beloved party bereft after 18 years in government. Listless, policy-less, mostly leaderless – thus began the Conservatives convoluted attempts to regain high office. Lord Ashcroft, with his millions, would play an instrumental role. When no one would dare look at the Tories, never mind vote for them, he was their sole guardian. Successive dismal and entirely expected general election defeats did not mute his desire to return to the fold and help his party. As a billionaire, sexagenarian Belize exile, he breaks the mould of the perceived political guru. But it his money, his determination and his political intrigue that has so, discreetly, shaped the modern Conservative party.
Ashcroft returned to the political fray with an article in the Daily Telegraph on Friday where he outlined the latest findings from his ‘Project Blueprint’. This is a series of authoritative polling of the British political landscape run in order to aid a Conservative majority at the next general election. This is not the first time Ashcroft has systematically polled the good people of Great Britain; after he was drafted into to help run the marginal seats campaign in 2005 he published a highly critical report of the campaign, entitled ‘Smell the Coffee’. The key observation, namely that the Conservatives had proved beyond all doubt that they did recognise, nor care about, the public’s anxieties or aspirations, played a pivotal part in the modernisation of the Conservative party.
The headline figures for the Conservatives from ‘Project Blueprint’ are at first glance quite alarming. Stripping the electorate down to four key groups, Ashcroft has concluded that just 23 per cent of the electorate can be considered Tory ‘Loyalists’ – which seems astonishingly low – while some 34 per cent of those who voted Conservative in 2010 would now no longer do so – which seems astonishingly high. Thirteen per cent are classified as ‘Defectors’, those, naturally, who are liable to defect from one party to the other. Despite saying they would not vote Conservative if an election were held tomorrow, these ‘Defectors’ would still much prefer a Conservative government to the coalition, and most say an outright Tory victory is their preferred result.
On personal traits, and in better news for the Conservatives, David Cameron and George Osborne are preferred as a team by 53 per cent to Miliband and Balls’ 47 per cent. Among floating voters this advantage increases to a nearly 75 to 35 split. For those who have started to support the Conservative party since 2010, 95 per cent cite that they trust Cameron and Osborne to run the economy better than the Labour team. They are impressed that the government is sticking to its guns over difficult policies, especially the deficit, and are more likely to give high marks to David Cameron.
For the prime minister, despite his months of woes, he still enjoys robust personal ratings. Cameron is still by and large an asset to the Tory brand, and is strongly preferred as the ‘best PM’ when pitted against Ed Miliband. People who are wavering in their support think Cameron is a better prime minister by 69 per cent to 12 per cent. Even among those who have defected from the Tory column, Cameron enjoys a near 50 per cent advantage over Miliband.
Last, Ashcroft’s polling puts paid to the myth that all the Conservatives have to do to win come 2015 is be more rightwing. Much like the holier than thou among the left, who still reel that New Labour never offered unfettered socialism, Ashcroft has concluded that to pursue an ‘overtly rightwing agenda’ would dissuade the very voters the Tories need to win over.
Fifteen years after he began, Ashcroft’s mission continues apace. The analysis is both stark and promising for the Conservatives at the same time. It also contains deeply alarming synopsis of the current state of the Labour party. While no party has increased their percentage of the vote at a subsequent general election since 1974, Labour cannot rely on Tory inefficiencies to sweep them to No 10. The Conservatives, Ashcroft confidently concludes, can still win the next general election outright.
This analysis need not be only read by conservative eyes. One would hope that somewhere in Labour’s new offices a clutch of Labour strategists are poring over every inch of Ashcroft’s findings. In early 2011 I was reliably informed that the Labour party still hadn’t conducted a detailed polling analysis of why the party lost, Liam Byrne’s 2010 analysis for Progress aside. If this remains so, it is truly shameful. But in case anyone in Brewer’s Green is reading this, get in touch and we’ll pop a copy of ‘Project Blueprint’ in the post. And even pay for the stamp.
coalition government, Conservatives, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, election 2010, George Osborne, Labour, Liam Byrne, Lord Ashcroft, polling