Has the party moved on since Theresa May’s “nasty party” judgement?
At the 2002 Tory party conference the then Chair, Theresa May, stunned delegates by telling them that..There’s a way to go before we can return to government. There’s a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies, You know what some people call us: the nasty party”
Nearly three years on from that speech the Cheadle by-election on Thursday demonstrated that her diagnosis is still valid. For the reason why the party failed to make inroads in the Lib Dem position is that a large proportion of Cheadle’s voters were prepared to switch their allegiance in order to prevent the Tories winning.
The voting figures are striking because in the past three elections in Cheadle the aggregate Labour/Lib Dem vote hardly changed. What has blocked the Tories and made this into a safe Lib Dem seat has been how that proportion has split.
2001 General Election: Labour 14% Lib Dems 42.4% 2005 General Election: Labour 8.8% Lib Dems 48.9% 2005 By-election: Labour 4.6% Lib Dems 52.2%
The Lib Dems by-election main message followed precisely the same principle as Tony Blair’s General Election campaign by making “stopping the Tories” the objective. It worked on May 5th and again this week because so many electors out there hate the party.
For it’s not the level of support the party enjoys the matters – it’s the negative proportion and how they use their votes. And the hard reality is that until the Tories can make themselve liked again they have no chance of returning to office.
In the next two months the Tories will choose Michael Howard’s successor and there’s little doubt that the Cheadle failure will play a big part in the decision. David Davis continues to be the heavy odds-on favourite. Only time will tell whether the by-election failure will affect that?