New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Election 2024
3 October 2014updated 05 Oct 2023 8:20am

How low is the ceiling on the Tory vote?

The Conservatives' brand weakness means they may struggle to reach the level needed to be the largest party. 

By George Eaton

After waking up to some of the best headlines of his political career on Thursday, David Cameron can today savour the news that the Tories have moved ahead of Labour in a YouGov poll for the first time since the omnishambles Budget of March 2012. After his conference speech pledge to cut taxes by £7bn, the Conservatives have risen four points to 35 per cent, while Labour has fallen four to 34 per cent. 

It is, of course, a single poll (elsewhere, a Populus survey has Labour ahead by five), and the bounce may well prove transitory. After George Osborne’s well-received Budget in March, the Tories enjoyed a similar surge, but the polls soon reverted to an average Labour lead of around four points. What is clear, however, is that the opposition’s advantage is sufficiently soft for the Conservatives to have a chance of winning the most votes next May. 

There are, though, two things that should concern – and do concern – them. The first is that they need a lead of around three points to be confident of emerging as the single largest party. On a uniform swing (see the seats calculator on our elections site May 2015), today’s YouGov poll would leave Labour 20 seats ahead. This bias is partly due to the unreformed constituency boundaries, but also to differential turnout (fewer people tend to vote in Labour constituencies, so their vote is more efficiently distributed) and anti-Tory tactical voting. That Labour’s core vote has been swollen by Lib Dem defectors, most of whom no show no sign of leaving, intensifies the problem. 

The second concern is the level of the ceiling on the Conservative vote. As is often noted, despite facing a recession-hit government and one of the most unpopular prime ministers in history, the Tories were only able to poll 36 per cent in 2010. The primary reason for this was the toxicity of the Conservative brand. There are too many voters, who, whatever the circumstances, will never vote for them (the belief that they are the “party of the rich” being the biggest problem). An Ipsos-MORI poll earlier this year found that while 33 per cent would “never consider voting” Labour, a far greater 40 per cent would never consider voting Conservative. As a result, the Tories’ current rating of 35 per cent may be at the upper limits of what they can achieve. 

Several Tories have told me that they believe the party failed to “maximise its vote” in 2010 by running a lacklustre campaign, and failing to put forward an attractive retail policy offer (it was the Lib Dems, rather than them, who proposed raising the personal allowance to £10,000). Some also argue that their incumbency status will help offset Labour’s boundaries advantage (although the polls don’t bear this out). But the concern remains that, without a fundamental reinvention of the party, the Tories will struggle to get above 35 per cent. 

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
We need an urgent review of UK pensions
The future of private credit
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors