Is this the Tory that Labour fears most?

Is this the Tory that Labour fears most?

    Will the Tories do disproportionately better in Ashcroft-funded seats ?

michael ashcroft RH.JPGThis is Michael Ashcroft who in this year’s Sunday Times Rich List was placed in position 87 with an estimated wealth of £800m.

He has been a major donor to the Tory party and before the 2005 general election, as was reported here, he hand-picked a group of Tory candidates in marginal constituencies and then was responsible for providing extra attention and funding to help them with their campaigns.

As John Kampfner reports in the Guardian this morning 24 of the 36 gains that Michael Howard’s Tories picked up in 2005 had been supported by Ashcroft.

Funding went in for “below the radar” campaigning – bespoke mail-shots and telephone canvassing – and the results were impressive.

I live in Bedford, the Conservatives’ 67th most winnable seat, and I have been targeted with what I can only assume is Ashcroft-funded campaigning. Maybe I’m underestimating my local Tories (if that is possible!) but a mailing I got before May’s election was impressive and I could not believe that party activists on the ground here had devised it, and more importantly, had set up the infrastructure to deal with the response.

For whatever the polls might be showing the critical battle-ground for the next election is in seats like Bedford. It is marginal voters in marginal seats who are going to determine whether Gordon secures Labour’s fourth term.

    And it is this sort of extra boost and focus that might help the Tories do better in terms of seats than the uniform national swing calculations suggest.

This has a big betting angle. As I observed in March 2005 “If Ashcroft’s lucky candidates enjoy disproportionate successes then it will certainly affect the Commons seat markets.” On the morning of May 5th 2005 the Tory buy level was 182 seats. Anybody who made a punt then turned in a nice profit.

In all the debate on party funding we’ll hear a lot more in coming months about Labour trying placing restrictions on activity like Ashcroft’s. It’s going to be a hard argument to make because many unions and other bodies have been providing special support for seats with a Labour interest for decades.

Mike Smithson

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