This weekend, there was a Telegraph View article entitled “We will rue the day Clegg ratted on his deal”. It postulates a couple of different theories. One is that had Clegg not vetoed the change in boundaries back in 2012, the Tories would be on course for victory. The other, which is far stranger, is that the Lib Dems low polling figures are mostly down to this veto of boundary changes.
The second one is too ridiculous to be taken seriously, but the former is worth discussing. The boundaries as they are constructed do give Labour an in-built advantage. Would the Conservative Party be on course for a majority after the general election in a few weeks’ time if said election was being contested on the newly constructed and subsequently vetoed boundaries? The answer is: of course not. The Conservative Party’s problems run a whole lot deeper than that.
They are related in a way to the Lib Dems, but not in the way the Daily Telegraph thinks. Back in May 2010, many Orange Book Lib Dems hoped that the Coalition would pave the way for a sort of re-alignment of British politics, with Cameron and his crew converting the Tories into a fully fledged liberal party. If the right of the party didn’t like it, perhaps Cameron would be willing to let them all walk away. We now know how naïve such a hope was. Those on the right of the Lib Dems were not swayed at all by the Tories supposed liberal side. Given that, I can take a stab and say that many others were not either.
Cameron leads Miliband decisively on personal ratings and who is more Prime Ministerial. The Tories also lead Labour decisively in terms of perceived economic competence. This should be more than enough for a stonking poll lead. However, the two parties are still essentially neck in neck. The reason for this comes down to information revealed in a recent Ipsos Mori poll: voters were asked to say whether they liked or disliked different parties as brands only. In other words, forget about current leaders or policy, how much do you like the Labour brand, or the Tory brand, etc. Labour came out +12. Even the Lib Dems, who we are always told are supposedly dead and buried as a brand, -8. The Tories? -32. That’s abysmal.
The Tories have done nothing this parliament to turn that around. They have tried to chase liberal swing voters and UKIPers at the same time. This was never possible, so it’s no wonder they have failed to turn the heads of either in significant numbers. The pledge to hold a European referendum failed to bring over the Eurosceptic vote while scaring business and large sections of middle class voters. On immigration, they have both put out the white vans telling immigrants to go home while failing to make their own immigration targets. They look weak on the subject to people who want strength, and xenophobic to those who are liberal. It’s a perfectly bad place to have ended up.
The Tories need to stop blaming Clegg and the boundaries for their problems. The party will never get a majority again unless it taps into what the British people want from them, it’s that simple.