Are the Tories resigned to pushing lobby fodder?

Look at a Lib Dem election campaign, whether it’s a sitting MP or target seat challenger, and you’ll invariably find a hard working local campaigner, a local champion, and leaflets full of local stories.

That’s not at all what you see in Conservative literature. Across many seats the Tories have all but given up promoting their local campaigning credentials, or selling their candidate as the best person to be the MP. True, you’ll always find a few token stories, but the vast majority of material hitting doormats promotes Cameron, and Cameron alone.

Most of their firepower pushes the message that we need a Conservative MP in the constituency to ensure Brown is kicked out. Your vote could be the one that propels Cameron into Number 10. David Cameron needs you! Yes, YOU!

Have the Tories accepted they can’t compete with the Lib Dems on the basis of how good the local MP or candidate is, how hard he or she works for local people and how strongly they campaign?

Perhaps. The changes in election expenses rules also encourage parties (especially wealthier ones) to put out material that doesn’t mention the local candidate. It then counts towards the generous national expense limit in the long campaign, not the lower local expense limit.

But it does seem to me – from what I’ve heard about seats across the country and polling evidence of how people view their own MP – that it isn’t just down to election expenses; that Lib Dem MPs and target seat candidates do tend to work harder and be more engaged with their communities than those of other parties (though, of course, there are exceptions on all sides).

I suspect it’s down to a combination of the culture within the party and the reality that the Lib Dems don’t have many safe seats.

Will the Conservative approach work? If people simply vote for the party leader they want to run country, it should do. The idea that, whichever constituency you live in and whatever the local politics, we really just want someone who’ll troop obediently through the voting lobby to get our preferred party leader into power, has been accepted for over fifty years.

But that assumption is increasingly being challenged. If it were true, Chris Huhne should already be conceding defeat in Eastleigh, but as Stephen Tall reported yesterday, the reality on the ground is very different.

Will the “vote Tory to get rid of Labour” message work in all those Lib Dem/Tory marginals? My hunch is it won’t be enough.

It’s partly because the old orthodoxy appears to be wrong. When they have a good, hard working MP connecting with local communities and doing an excellent job, a large proportion of people will vote for her, whatever they might think of her party leader and who might or might not find themselves in 10 Downing Street.

It’s also partly because Nick & Vince are well enough respected that the prospect of a hung parliament with Liberal Democrat influence will be a plus to a significant proportion of people (though that might change if the other parties succeed in their quest to make it sound really scary, and successfully portray Brown and Cameron as incapable of leading a minority or coalition government).

This year sees the Tories’ first real chance to win a General Election since 1992 and all the evidence so far is it’s going to be tight. It’s an excellent opportunity to test the hypothesis. When it comes to the crunch, in the privacy of the pulling booth, will people vote for the local champion, or will they plump for the lobby fodder? Roll on polling day.

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This entry was posted in General Election, News and Op-eds.


  • Andrew Suffield 9th Feb '10 - 11:44am

    I think that to a considerable extent, Tory voters do vote “for the party” rather than “for the MP”.

  • It reflects the SNP campaign in the 2007 Scottish elections, where the emphasis was all on Alex Salmond and the local candidates were lucky if they got a look in.

  • Well think about it. Lib/Dems are strong when having local people standing for them, so the Tory party know they are starting at a weak position if they try to take them on head to head. So by using Cameron it is not allowing the local Lib/dem to attack the Tory PMP.
    Reading a Tory blog this morning “we find it very hard to remove a Lib/Dem MP once they get in”, and this is why they are spending more time and money attacking the Labour seats.
    I live in Dorset/Poole and have not seen one Tory leaflet.

  • “Will the “vote Tory to get rid of Labour” message work in all those Lib Dem/Tory marginals? My hunch is it won’t be enough”

    No but “do you want 5 more years of Brown” is a strong one. When this question is asked in polls 80% do not want him. I wonder when we see him cry on TV next week if that 80% will change?

  • Liberal Neil 9th Feb '10 - 5:31pm

    Your comments certainly reflect the Tory campaign here in Oxford West & Abingdon.

    The entire Tory arguments is about getting rid of Gordon Brown and there is little sign of the Tory candidate actually doing much.

    Our campaign will be about Dr Evan Harris’s record as a hard-working constituency MP and as an effective parliamentarian.

  • I was wrong with my 80% do not want Brown, if you look on here you get the ratings back to 1997, and notice the VERY high ratings that Paddy got.
    Ref Oxford, if the Tory attack on Brown works, I feel the most Labour voters that switch will vote Lib/Dem. So expect some seats moving over, and those that are Lib/Dem increasing their votes. I can see an increase in the Lib/Dem seats to close to 100.

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