Ahead of my new round of research listening to voters across the US, I speak to former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and James Pindell of the Boston Globe about the midterms, the future of the two parties, the likelihood of a challenge to President Trump in the Republican primaries and the prospect of a third-party candidate.
In my latest podcast I talk to MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan about my Ashcroft in America research looking at next month’s midterm elections in the US, and about my new book White Flag? An examination of the UK’s defence capability.
I have often thought of creating a game of Political Focus Group Bingo (for which the market would be admittedly niche) in which the players would tick off words and phrases on their cards as they were uttered by the focus group participants. One of these would be ‘Australian-style points system’ – a locution you will hear more often than not once the subject of immigration has come up, as it has in practically every group I have done since I began my research four general elections ago. Until the referendum the point was not so much that people thought the volume of immigration was too high (though many did) as that we did not have control over it or the ability to decide who could and could not come in. Nor do people want EU migrants already here to have to leave – my polling has found that whatever their view of Brexit, most agree they should be allowed to stay permanently.
A Defence Secretary who believes that the UK should consider getting stuck in to other people’s wars
This article was first published on ConservativeHome.com on 02 October 2018.
Towards the end of a fringe meeting yesterday, I half expected to hear a band strike up Rule Britannia.
It was an ungodly hour – before 9am on a Monday – and Gavin Williamson had spent 45 minutes or so choosing his words very carefully. At a ConservativeHome event to mark the publication of my new book on the state of the UK’s armed forces, White Flag?, he spied traps everywhere, skilfully sidestepping a series of awkward questions with classic Cabinet Minister-style platitudes. (more…)
Can the Conservatives win in Canterbury, Middlesbrough and Midlothian at the same time? The question was debated by fine minds under the auspices of Policy Exchange, whose director Dean Godson declared it the pre-eminent question “of this conference, of our time, of our epoch”. And the verdict? For the analyst and commentator James Frayne “there are nuances… but I think the answer is no.” No such pessimism from Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houghton or Kirstene Hair, “one of the twelve newly elected Scottish MPs who were proud to impose a Conservative government on England last year.” For her, the answer was a clear message: the Scottish Tories were the only Unionist party, so “whether urban or rural, they knew exactly what they were voting for. Some people held their nose while voting Conservative but they did it because they knew what they were getting.” Joe Twyman, former YouGov guru and founder of Deltapoll, stressed the importance of making an emotional connection. And what message resonates most with people on an emotional level – Brexit? The NHS? Housing? No, much simpler: “The Conservatives will make your life a bit better.”
Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC has had his latest “hero of the month” article published in Britain at War, the country’s best-selling military history monthly magazine. (more…)
Blackpool nostalgia, the Badgers’ Vote, and the vortex of perpetual agitation: Day 2 of my conference diary
There is no denying that conference-goers are divided on a question that goes to the very heart of our identity and outlook: do we miss the seaside? For all the advantages of Birmingham and Manchester, there are those who miss the bracing days of Blackpool and Bournemouth, and a salty windswept stroll along the promenade before the day’s intrigue and plotting. At my first Tory conference in the northern resort more than forty years ago I found digs in one of the guesthouses along the seafront from the Winter Gardens, lacking in those days the funds to stay at the Imperial Hotel with the grandees. After unpacking I asked the landlady to direct me to the bathroom. “Bath?” came the reply. “Didn’t you have a bath before you came?”
One of the most telling parts of the research I do is hearing from voters which political stories have stayed in their minds from the last few weeks and months. Notably, one of the first things to be mentioned in all our focus groups this month was the Labour antisemitism row. This is significant because it is the sort of story that usually stays well inside the beltway. The fact that normal people with a limited appetite for politics raise it spontaneously is a bad sign, especially since it suggests to them not only the presence of unpleasant elements within the Labour Party but a colossal lack of leadership for allowing it to drag on for so long.
This piece was first published in the Mail on Sunday on 30 September 2018.
Theresa May can arrive at the Conservative Conference today with a certain spring in her step following her slapdown of EU leaders after the Salzburg summit: my latest research shows that voters think the PM is right to threaten to leave without a deal rather than seek further compromise with an intransigent EU.
Yet with her MPs trying to pull her in two directions at once, this could be the most difficult Tory gathering for many years. Even so, she and her party need to look beyond Brexit and beyond the conference hall. Since the referendum it has become almost a cliché to say we are a divided country, but we are at odds over more than just Brexit: we are split over the whole past decade of political life.
Few expect the Conservative Conference that begins in Birmingham today to be dominated by anything other than Brexit. Hard though this may be to avoid, it would be a wasted opportunity. As my latest research shows, if Brexit is at the top of the government’s agenda the same cannot be said for the voters: the next election will be about other things.