Is detoxification harder when the party is in power?
One of the lessons from the 2005-2010 Parliament was the need for the Conservative Party to go much further in tackling its image problem â€“ â€œdetoxifyingâ€ its brand â€“ before it was able to develop (or at least articulate) a detailed programme of serious policy commitments. This was a strategic decision taken long before the economic collapse resulted in the parties necessarily having to rethink their policy goals.
The evidence from polling suggests the rebranding of the Conservative Party was at best mixed. True, compared with 2005, by May 2010 fewer people selected â€œdividedâ€ (23% to 13%), â€œout of touch with ordinary peopleâ€ (32% to 25%) or â€œwill promise anything to win votesâ€ (45% to 29%) as characteristics they would pick to describe the party. However, taking together the full image descriptions Ipsos MORI use, the party only attained parity rather than positive attractiveness in the public mind.
And using a different more general â€œlikeabilityâ€ measure, by April 2010 the Conservativesâ€™ â€œnet likeabilityâ€ score was -19: hardly different from the -22 recorded in 2007. In contrast, Cameronâ€™s own personal net â€œlikeabilityâ€ moved from -8 to +11 between 2007 and 2010.
If as many suspect the tough economic and spending decisions hurt the Toriesâ€™ brand over the next few years, then will the party be even more reliant for its electoral success on a relatively popular and charismatic leader come the next general election?
Mark Gill is former head of political research at Ipsos-MORI and co-author with Bob Worcester, Roger Mortimore, Paul Baines of Explaining Cameronâ€™s Coalition