This Saturday [October 14], the first commercial passenger flight is due to land at St Helena’s troubled airport fully 20 months after it was originally due to touch down. (more…)
At the beginning of the week I wrote that most people would be paying even less attention to the party conferences this year than they usually do: with very few exceptions, memorable conference moments are the ones leaders wish had never happened.
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, we have just witnessed one of those moments. The security implications aside, the so-called comedian interrupting Theresa May with a P45 at the supposed behest of Boris Johnson was a sideshow. But it was agonising to watch as she struggled to regain her voice; the Tory faithful in the hall and the most cynical reporters were at one in willing her to recover.
As if the conference were not already beset with rivalry and intrigue, we now have the Battle of the Lanyards. Most attendees wear their passes on bright blue cords sponsored by Tate & Lyle, but a rearguard action has been launched by British Sugar, keen to promote their home-grown product with a lanyard of their own, featuring the Union flag. Tate & Lyle are no strangers to the hazards of politics. Gerald Mason, the company’s senior vice president, once promised Liam Fox a lifetime supply of sugar if he could successfully conclude a free trade deal with Cuba, and on returning to the company’s HQ received a stern lecture about the Bribery Act.
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.
The October issue of the magazine has a two-page write-up on the life and bravery of Private William Boynton Butler, who was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for outstanding bravery during the Great War.
An honour to welcome the Prime Minister to the annual ConHome party with the 1922 Committee, which has become a regular feature on the conference agenda. It was especially good of her to turn up on her birthday (what better way to celebrate the occasion?) She was on tub-thumping form, and took the opportunity of reminding the audience that the implementation phase of Brexit (not a “transition period”) would last no more than two years. As well as a rousing cheer she was met with an uplifting chorus of ‘Happy Birthday To You’, boldly led (I can exclusively reveal) by Nigel Evans. The event was generously sponsored by The City UK and Heathrow Airport, whose boss, John Holland-Kaye, she had met only recently: “When Philip and I were flying off on our summer holidays, the chief executive of Heathrow came and told us all about their future expansion.
For a party organisation, a snap general election is a bit like an unannounced Ofsted inspection, as Paul Goodman sagely observed at yesterday’s ConHome fringe meeting on party reform. Quite a revealing one, in the most recent case. Many of the conclusions of the party’s election review focus on narrowing the gap between day-to-day operations and a war footing, and this makes sense – “a snap election should be snap for them and not for us,” as someone close to the process likes to put it. The plans for long-term engagement with younger and ethnic minority voters are also welcome, and yet… familiar. The sense of déjà vu comes from 2005, when I distinctly remember arguing that rather than burn through money on expensive and certainly pointless poster campaigns, proper investment should be made in enduring projects like this that would bear real fruit. In politics as in so many things, the seemingly urgent has a way of crowding out the important.
In many years of listening to voters in my political research, the same complaints come up again and again: politicians don’t listen, they always break their promises, that sort of thing. One such theme that used to be a regular but which we have not heard for a while, strangely enough, is “the parties are all the same”. You can certainly argue this is a good thing, in the sense that democracy ought to be about a real choice. On the other hand, it also means we have a principal Opposition party that seems intent on turning London into Caracas. It was heartening to hear Theresa May’s staunch defence of free market capitalism which, for all its imperfections, remains the most effective – indeed, the only – system for raising living standards and bringing a measure of prosperity to billions of people around the world.
Yesterday I set out my two main observations from the research that went into The Lost Majority, my book on the 2017 election that is published this week. One was that while the Conservative voting coalition in June was bigger than the one that elected David Cameron two years ago, it was also different: older, more working class, more modestly educated, more socially and culturally conservative, and more pro-Brexit. Those who switched away from the party were disproportionately likely to be younger, graduates, professionals, and to be more socially liberal, and to have voted to remain in the EU. While drawing more working class voters to the Tories is a significant achievement, the party will need to be able to reach further beyond these dividing lines to win in the future, especially if 42 per cent of the vote is not enough for an overall majority.
This article first appeared in the Telegraph on 29 September.
In January 1993, the Conservative Party’s average poll rating was 39 per cent. Twelve months later it had fallen to 31 per cent, and there it stayed, or thereabouts, for more than a decade. Throughout that time, and until after their third consecutive general election defeat, the Tories suffered from a fatal combination of flaws. People did not think the party was on their side or in touch with life as they lived it, and neither did they think it was up to the job of running the country.
It would be a bit much to say the Tories are in the same predicament today. When, in 2005, I published Smell The Coffee – an analysis of public opinion in which I set out the scale of the challenge they faced – the party had won less than a third of the vote, and just 198 seats.
The 2017 election was supposed to be a walkover for the Conservative Party – but the voters had other ideas. My new book, The Lost Majority, aims to help explain how the unexpected result came about and why the thumping victory the Tories expected never happened. More importantly, it looks at the state of the party’s relationship with the voters in the wake of the campaign, and the challenge of winning a majority in parliament when even 42 per cent of the vote was not enough for outright victory. I have written about my main conclusions in today’s Telegraph.