David Cameron leaves Downing Street. Photo: Getty Images
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Even in victory, the Conservatives must continue to reach out to Labour voters

The election victory is an opportunity to speak not just to those voters who re-elected the Tories, but to those who stuck with Labour, says Daniel Kawczynski.

Clement Attlee’s wife Violet was a staunch Conservative supporter. The most heart-rending note of condolence David Blunkett received when his guide dog Teddy died came from Margaret Thatcher. And it was Lord Tebbit, of all people, who took the trouble to praise Ed Balls for his magnanimity in defeat in the early hours of May 8.

It is still possible for grudging respect  – even real affection – to transcend party affiliations within the environs of Westminster, but it is today all too rare a quality. MPs who had seen service in the Second World War had a much greater sense of perspective – in the face of a common enemy, unbreakable bonds had been formed between Socialists and Tories – but, since then, the business of politics has become depressingly tribal, if not downright petty and mean-spirited. 

Blame it if you like on the emergence of the professional political classes – people who have held no jobs outside of politics and whose salaries and careers depend entirely on adherence to party lines on every issue – but it is quite clear that this degree of obsessive single-mindedness in the modern House of Commons by no means reflects the character of the electorate.

For that matter, I doubt if the country’s two most politically partisan “red top” newspapers – the Mirror and the Sun – can be said to talk for their readers, either, certainly not at all times, on every subject. Indeed, a Mirror journalist confided in me that her paper’s internal market research had shown how many of the paper’s readers were Ukip supporters. Stephen Glover, the media pundit, retailed an interesting statistic the other day based on a YouGov poll: the Daily Mail happens to have 464,000 Labour voters among its readers.

Even the most tribal MPs at Westminster must quietly have to concede that a whole succession of issues - like the Iraq war, the police’s handling of the Jean Charles De Menezes affair, not to mention Gordon Brown’s strident call for “British jobs for British workers” – have all in their different ways challenged the old certainties and perhaps made a nonsense of them. Just as Chekhov said that no individual can ever be seen in terms of black and white, but only, at best, varying shades of grey, so, too, few, if any, of the people MPs represent these days can be categorised as being either perpetually red or blue.

So one can see why David Cameron is reviving the idea of “One Nation” Conservatism – he wants to lead a party that champions not just its own interests, but the whole country’s. This makes sense politically as well as emotionally. I think now more than ever that the Conservative Party – brought to office with 36.9 per cent of the electorate behind us – must reach out to Labour voters. Her Majesty’s Opposition, now seeking a new leader to succeed Ed Miliband, is plainly struggling to re-connect with popular public opinion.

Labour seemed to be aware during the last election that a lot of their policies were unpopular – certainly for anyone who wanted to improve his or her lot in life – but they were arrogant enough to believe that their brand was sufficiently strong that people would vote for them anyway. They were like an old-fashioned department store obliviously restocking their shelves with the same old lines that people had stopped buying at least a decade ago.

A party that was more responsive would have seen how the people they could normally count on for support had changed. The old moulds had been broken. I spoke on doorsteps in my own constituency during the last election to traditional Labour voters who did not believe, for instance, in increasing the national debt, who were not uncritical friends of the NHS, who had concerns about what they saw as a benefits culture that made laziness an all too easy option, and who wanted for themselves simply to get on in life without the State telling them peremptorily what to do. These were the people to whom Miliband had made absolutely no concessions.  

These people often possessed a view that must have appeared equally counter-intuitive to the Labour strategists on immigration. Gillian Duffy, the Labour voter from Rochdale, raised this issue in a way that was measured and reasonable when Gordon Brown so memorably encountered him during the 2010 general election campaign.  Ed Miliband’s inner circle was adamant, however, that nobody like Mrs Duffy should be allowed within a hundred miles of their man during the last campaign, a fact that I would contend showed to what extent they were in denial about what a lot of their core voters were thinking. These were the ones who believed, too, that their party had a Teflon coating that would make it completely resistant to Ukip on polling day: how wrong they turned out to be.

I believe therefore that the Prime Minister has a historic opportunity to embrace all those people who are, at least for now, out of sync with Labour and effectively disenfranchised – thoughtful, decent, patriotic citizens whose over-riding wish is to see the country run with compassion and humanity, but who reserve the right to think for themselves and reckon we can all do a lot more good in the world if we have money in our pockets. These are the people who have always been true to their own lights and have never lost their way. It’s not their fault that, for the time being at least, their party has.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.