Can the Lib Dems undermine Tory ambitions?
At the height of the Tory grammar row a week or so ago Francis Elliot in the Times carried a report about some leaked secret Conservative party research that might be a pointer to the next general election.
For the research underlined that the party that represents the biggest threat to the Cameron project is not UKIP or another faction on the right but the Liberal Democrats. The survey also showed a disconnect between the views of Tory supporters and Tory members and activists – the latter being more right wing.
Looking at what data there is there’s little doubt that the new Tory leadership has helped the party to eat into the Lib Dem vote although Ming has picked up support from Labour.
Since the end of last year ICM has helpfully broken down its current voting intention figures according to what respondents said they did on May 5th 2005. And looking at the last few surveys the Tories have been doing well attracting former Lib Dem voters. In the latest 11% of those who said they had voted Lib Dem last time were now indicating a preference for the Tories.
Fortunately for Ming’s party 12% of Labour voters last time said they were backing the Lib Dems although there was a fair bit of seepage in the opposite direction.
It’s not just in CON>LD marginals where this could make a difference. The Tories failed to take many Labour seats with small majorities in both 2001 and 2005 because a number of Lib Dems supporters used their vote to keep the Tories out.
So the primary challenge for the Tories is to firstly retain those Lib Dems who have switched and, secondly, to attract more. And that means pursuing a policy platform that many core Tory supporters are going to find hard to swallow. The Daily Telegraph and the site I term CONtinuityIDS are going to have a lot to bleat about.
For Gordon Brown, of course, this side battle doesn’t involve him but all the aces are in his hands. He controls the agenda and he will be looking for every opportunity to seek to underline that the Tories have not changed.