I was at a Westminster function last night and a Labour supporter and I got into a discussion about who would win the general election. I told him that, with a heavy heart, I thought the Tories would be the largest party in a hung parliament. He was adamant that I was wrong.
“Look at the polls!” he exclaimed.
Yes, look at the polls, I told him. The Tories and Labour are pretty much tied. What happens when the “silent Tories” have their say, I asked him. He had never heard of silent Tories as a phenomenon before. That was when I finally understood his unbridled optimism.
The silent Tory is a swing voter who is middle class, a homeowner most probably, who lives either in and around London or in the posh commuter belt of one of the big cities, Manchester being a good example (think Cheadle). They are probably in a long term, monogamous relationship; either married or in a civil partnership. They are the type of people who do yoga at weekends, and shop at the organic butchers; they buy the Guardian if they are going to buy a newspaper; they are largely internationalist and broadly pro-immigration. So you say, logically Labour voters, right? But here’s the thing: what keeps them up at night, what is of existential concern to them, is their personal finances. They are terrified of their mortgage interest going up, thus making their inability to pay every month an actual possibility. The idea that hangs there always, the notion that a few negative swings in the economy and their nice, little, comfortable, latte filled life could blow away in the breeze.
These are people you may empathise with, you make look down upon. Either way, they are the people who decide elections in Britain, whether you like it or not. They are the ones who live in Tory-Labour marginals, people who might have voted for one or the other at different elections. They voted for Tony Blair because he gave them precisely what they wanted: the ability to vote Labour, which they’d really like to do in a sort of right on way, yet still feel safe and secure. “Don’t worry, your taxes will remain low, your house price will remain high,” Tony told these people. And when he delivered, they voted his party back into power several times over.
This time round, the election has silent Tory written all over it. An uncertain political climate, a Labour Party that has positioned itself to the left, a shifting global environment, a Conservative prime minister who can tell a story about “keeping the boat steady”. Labour have nothing to offer these people, and have actually alienated them specifically with the mansion tax. Now, I’m not interested in arguing here and now whether the mansion tax is a good or a bad thing in a platonic sense. I only know it is the exact type of thing that scares the living shit out of silent Tories.
On May 7th, there will be an army of folks, fresh from their Tai Chi class, copy of that day’s Indy under their arms, who will go into the polling booth and vote Tory. They’ll feel very bad about doing it – but they’ll do it all the same.