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The Political Pulse

Latest opinion research and analysis

The Knowledge: The Cameron Conundrum...

The Conservative Party’s electoral headaches could be eased by a change of leader, argues Mark Gettleson

WORDS: MARK GETTLESON

The Conservative Party is in serious trouble. As I’ve written on these pages in the past, the Coalition has brought about an electoral unity on the Left not seen in generations, with four in 10 Liberal Democrats moving across to Labour. The Right seems disconcertingly divided, with pro-Coalition Liberal Democrats and UKIP voters, the vast majority of whom would rather see David Cameron in Downing Street than Ed Miliband, likely to cast votes which are of no use to the Prime Minister. As such, the single greatest electoral asset the Conservatives possessed in the 20th century has all but disappeared.

Any electoral strategist will tell you, however, that the movement of a voter from a third party to your main opponent only nets them one extra vote. Whereas a voter switching from your main opponent to you, nets you two extra votes – as it pushes you one towards the winning post, and the other guys back one. As such, it is exactly twice as important for the Conservatives to stop each of their voters moving over to Labour as it is to prevent someone backing UKIP.

In the current electoral maths, for every two anti-Clegg Liberal Democrat voters planning on backing Ed Miliband, the Conservatives must persuade one person who voted for Gordon Brown in 2010 to vote blue in 2015.

This is not going terribly well. A YouGov poll on 21st September found that while 41% of people who backed the Liberal Democrats in 2010 plan to choose Labour in 2015, just 3% of Gordon Brown voters are looking to pick Mr Cameron next time. That number needs to get a lot bigger.

One problem is that Labour voters know – and don’t especially like – David Cameron. YouGov tested the Prime Minister across a series of positive attributes, of which 49% of the public said there was nothing positive about him at all. Among those planning on voting Labour, the figure was 71%. As to whether he was ‘honest’, 14% of the public saw him as such, but just 3% of those planning to vote Labour.
When asked about London Mayor Boris Johnson, however, just 18% of voters and an extraordinary 23% of people currently planning on voting Labour saw nothing positive about him.

A majority of current Labour voters see the London Mayor as charismatic (51%), with just 9% describing David Cameron as such – and a mere 5% attaching the word to their own leader, Ed Miliband. Indeed, while Ed Miliband leads David Cameron among Labour voters by 30 points on ‘sticks to what he believes in’, he leads the Mayor by just 15 points. Across all the metrics tested, Boris leads David Cameron among voters as a whole and – in some cases by greater margins – among those currently planning on backing Labour.
It should come as little surprise that the very same YouGov poll that had just 3% of Labour voters from 2010 planning to back David Cameron in 2015 showed 8% of them would vote Conservative if Boris were leader. The number of people who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 who would move behind the London Mayor is even greater. Mr Cameron is currently receiving 14% of these voters, Mr Johnson would get 24%. The headline voting intentions speak for themselves. While Cameron vs. Miliband produces a seven point Labour lead (41% to 34%), Johnson vs. Miliband is neck-and-neck (38% a piece).

In 1960, John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were united in the view that as they weren’t forced to make constant unpopular decisions, it was far easier for a Governor than a Senator to become President. Indeed, Barack Obama was the first Senator to do so since Kennedy’s win. Leaders of devolved bodies are the closest Britain comes to Governors – they can show a record of achievement without scrutiny, unpopularity or constant organised opposition. They can be colourful and independent, yet authoritative: in government, but not the Government. Both Mr Johnson and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond have shown such roles can give them a national platform, with strong personalities allowed to shine through – and the London Mayor is very well positioned to help solve the Conservatives biggest strategic problem.