Have any of the parties pitched their tent in the right field?

Have any of the parties pitched their tent in the right field?

Henry G Manson on core vote versus anti-core vote

There’s a good article from David Clark, Robin Cook’s former adviser at the website Shifting Grounds. It really caught my eye this week. It sums up the perennial challenge facing political parties – where to pitch your electoral tent. It’s worth reading in full:

    Clark points out that political parties seeking power can’t simply afford a core vote approach. So far so obvious. But he insists neither can it afford an ‘anti-core vote strategy’.

Just as Conservatives can go to UKIP, disaffected Labour supporters have the choice of Greens, Respect, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. I’d add the BNP to that too. However the biggest worry I have is that so called Labour-supporters won’t turn out to vote. They might not even be registered to vote.

Clark also highlights how Labour has made some inroads into the Tory vote (about 7%) but that it needs to go further. The question is how. I think he’s right to reject the automatic assumptions of some Blairites who think ‘the answer is to re-run New Labour’s 1997 game plan with a single-minded focus on right-leaning voters and policies that are pro-market, pro-“aspiration” and pro-small government.’ Times have indeed changed since 1994. But by how much? Tony Blair thinks they haven’t changed as much as some in the Labour Party would like. He would say that, but is he right? And if not reheated new Labourism, then what?

David concludes ‘putting together a winning electoral coalition demands a broader approach than that envisaged by the advocates of either the core vote or anti-core vote strategies.’ He’s right on that account, but it’s not a challenge confined to the Labour Party either.

Tim Montgomerie at Conservative Home repeatedly worries about the threat of UKIP. Backbenchers wonder how they can make inroads into the North. Nick Clegg says the Liberal Democrats shouldn’t seek centre-left votes in the way they have in the past, but the New Statesman says it’s essential they do. Plaid Cymru devoted their conference to economic issues to try and appear beyond Welsh nationalists.

In many ways the SNP have been the best UK electoral coalition builders in recent times, but none of the other parties have it quite right. What it does is remind us that although many people involved in party politics baulk at formation coalitions with other parties, but to be successful you have to be a coalition yourself. In parliamentary terms there’s a huge political distance between Jeremy Corbyn and Stella Creasy.

The political stretch into the electorate must go further, but not at the expense of your core. If the old methods don’t quite fit with the times, then what are the new methods? Lord Tebbitt urges his party to reject the centre ground for the common ground. There’s something in that, but is anyone succeeding? The difference now for mainstream political parties is the worsening anti-party politics mood. Getting ‘supporters’ to the polling station is going to be an underestimated task for all the parties in 2015.

Without the right strategy, yesterday’s core voters could become tomorrow’s swing voters and opinion poll ratings melt like snow.

Henry G Manson

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