It’s only one poll, but it’s pretty conclusive. The work of the Cameron project to modernise the image of the Tory Party has failed. Who says so? ConservativeHome, that’s who.
The public still think the Tories want to cut services for the poor and taxes for the rich. And they do not trust them with the NHS one bit. They think Tories are tough on welfare and immigration. They have all the same attributes from the public – for good or for bad – that they had before they elected Cameron leader in 2005 to change their image. The tree scribble, the huskies, the hoodie-hugging – none of it has made a blind bit of difference compared to the Tories behaviour in government and the implacable sense the voters have of who they are and what they are for.
This graph from Political Betting could have been about the Tory image at any time since the Thatcher revolution.
Of course, despite all this, the Tories did almost, sort of, win the last election. Or at least they were the party that least lost it. But their failure to modernise and become a party that voters view differently is – at least in part – hardened as a result of their behaviour in government contrasted with their promises in opposition. Equally, as Tim Montgomerie points out in the Times(£) the Lib Dems have been allowed to propigate the narrative that they are the restraining force on the Tories, and anything good that comes from the government (what little there is) comes from them.
While the public are still willing to believe that a certain amount of pain is required to get the country back on track (and whether they are right or not, they do still believe this) this is not such a worry for the Conservatives. It is clear that their strategy has been to present themselves as the Party that is soberly able to manage the economy by administering the nasty medicine – hence Cameron’s soporific conference speech. But this would be very poor strategy from them.
If they continue to accept that they are only there to be the nasty medicine, then when voters feel better they will turn away from the Tories once again. If so the best they can hope for is long periods of Labour governments punctuated by brief periods where voters remind themselves of all the things they never liked about the Tories in the first place.
So the Tories either have to actually change – rather than indulge in superficial stunts – or convince voters longer term that nasty is what they want.
As someone who is finding the nastiness of the Tories heartbreaking to the community I live in, while they remain in Government I hope they can change. I have to as that is what would hurt the least people. But I strongly doubt they are capable of doing so. And I am seriously unconvinced they can convince the voters that the only way is nasty for a moment longer than they feel strictly necessary.
Economic recovery is essential to the health of our nation. Labour should greet good economic news with cheer. But we must also keep pushing the message of a recovery for all. But economic recovery is a double edged sword for the Tories. Especially the recovery for the rich they are presiding over, where living standards for all but a very privileged and untouched few continue to fall. If Labour can make the election about cost of living – and they are showing every sign of managing to do so thus far – while the Tories trumpet a recovery that is not reaching most parts of society, that could make their “nasty party” credentials worse, not better.