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FUTURE POLITICS

After the fall: Where the Conservatives went wrong

… and how they can win again.
James Blagden, Will Tanner
October 24, 2022
After the fall: Where the Conservatives went wrong

Conservatives face a simple choice in the next week: they can talk to themselves or to the country they want to lead. The last contest was fought in a vacuum of Thatcherite mythology and fantasy economics, and ended in economic and political catastrophe. This time must be different.

Will Tanner, Director of Onward

Economically interventionist and socially conservative policies that won the 2019 election are the Conservatives’ only hope of avoiding oblivion in 2024.

The Conservative collapse is now worse than the 1997 Labour landslide.

The Conservative Party is now deeply unpopular with great swathes of the public. More than one in three voters (35%) rate their chances of ever voting Conservative at zero per cent and nearly half (46%) rate it as extremely unlikely ( less than 10% likelihood). Meanwhile Labour leads the Conservatives on every issue excluding Defence and Brexit, including a 10-point lead on the cost of living, the most salient issue by a wide margin, and a 2-point lead on the economy.

The average Conservative voter is now older than they ever have been. The tipping point at which someone becomes more likely to vote Conservative rather than Labour has risen to 57 years old up from 43 in 2019. This means that anyone born after 1965 is more likely to vote Labour than Conservative.

But there is a narrow possibility of revival.

The majority of The Conservative Party’s voters have drifted to ‘Don’t Know’, rather than defecting to Labour or other parties. Our poll shows the Conservatives have lost four times the voters that Labour has gained since 2019. This means that these voters might return: it is easier to tempt voters back from the bench than from the opposing team. If all ‘Don’t Knows’ returned to the Conservative Party, the Tories could be in touching distance of Labour.

The Conservative coalition also remains relatively homogenous in its values, especially on social and cultural values which is where Labour remains divided. It is on economic issues that the coalition is more spread. The next leader must move leftwards towards the economic centre-ground of 2019 to rebuild their majority coalition. The Conservatives’ 16-point lead among left-auth voters in 2019 has been reversed and is now 6 point lead for Labour. Our polling suggests the Conservatives have lost as many as 4 million left-wing authoritarian voters since 2019. Only 300,000 hold libertarian values.

There is an alternative: a national conservatism that won the Conservatives their 80 seat majority in 2019.

The Conservatives must move back towards the centre on the economy and prioritise both growth and inequality if they want to rebuild their base.

When asked to choose between a government focused on growing the economy or reducing inequality, almost half (41%) of voters say they would prefer a government that shares wealth more equally, compared to 28% of voters who would prefer a government focused on growth. The Conservatives need to pursue growth and lower inequality – not either or. Even among 2019 Conservatives, fewer than half (43%) of voters prefer growth over inequality, with Conservative voters who have drifted to Don’t Know or defected to other parties even less likely to choose economic growth over reducing inequality.

When asked to rate 60 different policies against one another using a method called MaxDiff, voters’ priorities are clear. They want help for low earners (through lower bills and higher wages), investment in the NHS and public services, more apprenticeships and an end to high levels of immigration.

The most politically popular policies that the next Prime Minister could pursue are:

  • Cutting VAT on energy to reduce the price of heating your home; increasing taxes on big businesses to fund investment in public services like the NHS; increasing the national minimum wage; increasing the number of apprenticeships to give young people an alternative to university. 

The least popular for the next Prime Minister to pursue are:

  • Liberalised migration and so-called culture war issues: Accepting more refugees; preventing self-identified transgender people from using facilities for their new gender; and increasing the number of migrants coming to this country to study at university.

A move back to the type of conservatism that won in 2019 must be accompanied by the Conservatives restoring their reputation for competence and honesty.

When asked where the Conservative Government has gone wrong the most, a quarter (26%) of voters cite its handling of political scandals. And this figure is even higher among voters who have moved from the Conservatives to Don’t Know since 2019, with 42% saying that this was where the Government has gone wrong the most.

When asked to identify which traits they associate with the Conservative Party, the top three traits mentioned are, in order: “untrustworthy”, “dishonest”, and “self-serving”. Among all voters, the Conservative Party is three times more likely than Labour to be described as “dishonest”, twice as likely to be seen as not caring about “people like me” and twice as likely to be seen as breaking its promises. 

It may be too late to save a majority at the next election, but only by moving back to the popular principles that underpinned the 2019 manifesto can the Conservative Party avert a landslide defeat from which it may never recover.

About the poll

Onward conducted an 10,114 GB representative sample poll with J.L. Partners between 20 August and 2 September 2022. You can find the full cross tabs here.

The poll was designed by James Johnson and Tom Lubbock of JL Partners, James Kanagasooriam, who first identified the Red Wall, Will Tanner and James Blagden of Onward. 

It quoted for interlocked Age/gender; region; education; past vote; BES Political Attention. 

Standard British Social Attitudes question set of social and economic values statements were used.

 

To read more of our Future Politics work, please click here.

Nov 30
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