Exclusive poll: The Tory brand is still toxic

Just 40 per cent of people "would consider" voting for the party at the next election. 60 per cent w

How toxic is the Tory brand? It's a question that often occupies the mind of Andrew Cooper, David Cameron's director of strategy, who has consistently warned the Prime Minister that his party is still loathed by many of the voters that it needs the support of to win a majority next time round.

With this in mind, we conducted a poll with ICD Research on the subject, and the results make for fascinating reading. Asked whether they would consider voting for the Conservatives at the next election, just 40 per cent of the public said Yes and 60 per cent said No. The latest YouGov poll puts the Tories on 37 per cent (Labour is on 42 per cent), although this excludes those who don't know how they would vote and those who wouldn't vote.

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At the weekend, Cameron apologised for his recent comments to Labour MP Angela Eagle ("calm down, dear") and to Conservative MP Nadine Dorries ("'I know the honourable Lady is extremely frustrated"), for fear of appearing sexist. Before this, a leaked Downing Street memo revealed that the government was concerned about its plummeting support among women. Our poll suggests that such fears are well-founded.

The Tories are significantly less popular among women than men, with just 35 per cent of women saying that they would vote for the party, compared to 44 per cent of men. Little wonder when, as I've noted before, so many of the coalition's austerity measures - the abolition of baby bonds, the three-year freeze in child benefit, the abolition of the health in maternity grant, the cuts to Sure Start, the withdrawal of child tax credits from higher earners - hit women and families hardest.

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While Cameron is under pressure to shift rightwards on tax and public service reform, our poll found that a significant percentage of voters still see the Tories as too right-wing.

40 per cent of the public believe the party is too right-wing, compared to 18 per cent who believe it is too left-wing and 42 per cent who believe it is in the right position. Women are more likely than men to believe that the party is too right-wing. 42 per cent said that the Tories were too right-wing, compared to 37 per cent of men.

The results should not come as a surprise. As Conservative MP Nick Boles wrote recently in the Telegraph, "After three years of modernisation, David Cameron had shifted the perception of the party back towards the centre, and of himself even more so - although both were still seen as a bit more extreme than Labour and Gordon Brown. Since 2009, however, the party has shifted back to the Right in voters' eyes and, worryingly, so has he."

30 per cent of people said that the Conservatives "are much more right-wing than me" and 26 per cent said that they are "slightly more right-wing than me."

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Finally, asked how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement that "the Conservative Party is in touch with ordinary people", 31 per cent said they completely disagreed, compared to just 6 per cent who said they completely agreed. 18 per cent agreed with the statement and 28 per cent partially agreed with it.

The conclusion is clear: there are few votes to be won by shifting ever further to the right.

This exclusive poll for the New Statesman was carried out by ICD Research, powered by ID Factor, from 23-25 September 2011 and is based on a sample of 1,000 responses.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.