Coffee House

Lord Ashcroft’s message to the Tories: you’re doomed in 2015

9 March 2013

3:39 PM

9 March 2013

3:39 PM

I’m at the ConservativeHome ‘Victory 2015’ conference today, which after Lord Ashcroft’s presentation should perhaps be renamed Annihilation 2015. He started the day with one of his mega expensive polls of marginal seats, a survey of 19,200 suggesting the Tories would lose 93 seats to the Labour Party alone, giving Miliband a total of 367 MPs and a majority of 84. ‘I don’t want to see a Labour majority of four, let alone 84, but I hope this puts the challenge into some sort of perspective,’ Ashcroft said. The perspective being: give up! Go home! Wait for 2020! The noble lord didn’t quite put it like that (update: you can now read his account here) but here are his main points.

As James Forsyth first revealed, the Tories have a 40/40 strategy: to defend 40 seats and take 40 more (20 from Liberal Democrats). It should be a 90/40 strategy if Ashcroft is right. But let’s look at the 40 targets: how’s it going in those seats the Tories need to win from Labour? Here’s Lord Ascroft’s polling:


Not so good. I won’t reprint the charts showing Tory/LibDem marginals: there’s no advantage. And how’s it looking for Labour in the seats  they intend to steal from the Tories? Rather better:

When challenged about this later the party chairman, Grant Shapps, said that this was a snapshot of a government midway through power. It’ll get better.  But the bookmakers suggest otherwise: Ladbrokes now has a Tory majority at 4/1. And Miliband at 6/5.

Liz Truss, the schools minister, said that polls are more volatile now than at any time in our democratic history — she also said she was ‘one of the 7 per cent‘ of Tories who believe there will be a Cameron majority at the next election. In which case, she should place a bet and quintuple here money. (One of the attendees joked after that Lord Ashcroft should close the day with a seminar on how to emigrate to Belize. At least, I think he was joking)

As I said when it was my turn on the podium , if a week is a long time in politics then two years is an eternity. Ashcroft’s polls and the bookies’ odds are the Ghost of Christmas Future — saying not what will happen, come what may, but what is likely to happen if the Tories stay in the cliff-bound course they are on. What will happen if the political Scrooges do not change their ways. It can change, but it needs new ideas.

And there are plenty of new ideas here at the ConHome conference. It probably has more grassroots members than your average Tory conference. And far more interesting debates. It’s been imaginatively curated, with plenty of hard questions (more about those later). Theresa May has agreed to give the keynote speech. Only Tim Montgomerie could have pulled this off. The Tories will certainly miss him when he’s gone.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Chatterclass

    We now we know why he stopped giving money to the Tories. No point throwing good money after bad.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Do you mean doomed politically or economically? They are already doomed economically, They are done for politically in 2015. Labour are already doomed economically which is why they lost in 2010 but could win in 2015 because the client state and the BBC have ensured that we haven’t faced up to reality and CMD and Osborne haven’t the courage to be truthfull. Labour will then be finished off in 2015-2020.

    A three way coalition could help the project stagger on after 2020…..

  • Remittance Man

    According to Lord Ashcroft, and many other commenters, the Tories need to appeal to more working class voters. I suspect even Cameron agrees with this.

    The problem is, Cameron actually has no idea what “working class voters” want. Because of this, he tends to look at what the Labour Party is doing, thinking that, as the self-appointed voice of the working class, whatever they are doing must be right. Sadly, he is wrong.

    The Labour Party is the voice of the BBC, Guardianista, metropolitan elite. In so much as working class voters do support it, they do so by default; offered a pretty poor choice they resort back to tribalism.

    Cameron, or his replacement, needs to learn that the working class votes he can win are those of the aspirational type. People who are decidedly unimpressed by hoodie hugging, windmills, being nice to criminals and all the other touchy feely b*ll*cks Dave seems to think is necessary. Indeed they are repelled by it.

    The plain fact is, the sort of working class voters the Tories have any chance of winning hold very similar views on most things as the people in his own party who he likes to refer to as “headbangers”, “Turnip Taliban”, “fruitcakes”, “nutters” and closet racists.

  • Jules

    The polls are not volatile. Ever since Osborne cut the 50p tax in the Budget, the Labour party has been 10%+ ahead and on course to form a Government in 2015. Seriously, he might as well have grabbed a loud haler and shouted into a BBC camera, live on BBC News at 6:


    That was the equivalent of cutting the 50p tax, when ordinary people are suffering like never before. You Westminster types need to get out into the Country and see the devastation being wrought by this Government. Win the next election? LOL, 13 years will feels like 5 mins because generations in opposition awaits!

    • Andy

      And you, of course, would have paid the 50p Tax Rate ?? Your politics are those of spite, malice and envy. You should be ashamed of yourself.

      We should actually move towards a Flat Tax.

  • Roger Hudson

    Could British politics please stop lurching left to right to left again etc.
    The current , imperfect, coalition shows some glimmer of hope for a more reasoned grand coalition of the future. Or possibly time for more Greens.

    • Mycroft

      I liked the coalition at the beginning, but the way it has gone since has turned me against coalition government, and that seems to be a very general view.

  • Andy

    The problem is quite simple really. Gordon the moron Brown (aided by Ed bollocks Balls and weee Millipede) bankrupted the State. The solution to that has to include spending cuts and tax rises to once again balance the budget. However everyone thinks they can keep their freebies and that everyone else should pay more tax they already pay too much. And there you have the nub of the problem. Had Labour remained in power their poll ratings would be as bad if not even worse. The Tories are paying a very heavy price for having to clear up Labour’s mess.

    • MaxSceptic

      True enough. But they squandered whatever chance they did have to start afresh with deep, real spending cuts (not a reduction in the rate of spending); tax cuts; declaring a referendum on the EU during this Parliament; ignoring the European Courts; stopping immigration and benefits to undeserving migrants, etc. They should have declared these policies and if the Lib-Dems didn’t like it then go to the brink and hold a snap General Elections. He who dares wins, apparently. Cameron will pay for his timidity.

      • Andy

        Probably true. And it is possible the Coalition with the LibDems, a treacherous bunch even on a good day, was a huge mistake. It would probably have been better to have kept Gordon the Moron Brown in 10 Downing Street and hammer home the message ‘You made the mess you can clear it up’.

      • aaaa

        once you take inflation into account it is real spending cuts

      • Steven

        He wasn’t timid. He passionately wanted to be PM. His parents didn’t pay for him to attend Eton College (with 18 former PMs to its name) for nothing. He certainly wasn’t going to let a little thing like his own party or an election get in the way of becoming the next one!

    • jack mustard

      Surely the Tories are paying the price for failure; there’s no evidence they’ve cleared up anyone’s “mess”. Five consecutive quarters of economic growth between 2009-10 were wiped out when George Osborne’s policies took effect.

      • Andy

        I disagree. Gordon the Moron Brown left the States finances in the worst mess in peace time history. You and I will never live to see that mess sorted out – that is how bad it is. The 5 quarters of growth you talk about were not ‘wiped out when George Osborne’s policies took effect’. If, which is what you are implying, that the Coalition has cut, cut, and cut why do we still have a huge deficit ? The reality is the Coalitions policy has been very similar to that outlined by the Labour Party by Darling, save the Coalition has made it slightly tighter, in the order of 0.5%. I hardly think that would have made a vast difference. And in any case in pure cash terms public expenditure has NOT been cut – that’s the bloody problem.

        • Jules

          The growth was fragile and Osborne’s ideological cuts killed it stone dead. The Labour party left the economy growing, the deficit and unemployment falling. That is fact. Even the OBR have admitted austerity, cuts and tax rises have stopped growth. They have given £750bn to the banks, yet lending is actually FALLING and the BoE Governor is telling small business to borrow from Sweden! £750bn to the banks in 3 years, yet they would not give a £60m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters to save a British business and high quality British jobs.

          The reason borrowing is higher is because high skilled high paying jobs have been lost due to the cuts and the only jobs being created are part time or low waged low skilled ones. When people take low paid jobs, they go onto claim tax credits and housing benefit because their wages are not enough to live on. Therefore the welfare bill rises. Conservatives should support a Living Wage, in order for the tax payer to stop having to top up the wages of, for example, people working for the multi million pound profit making Tesco.

          Osborne has put UP VAT, cut housing benefit, Council Tax benefit and tax credits and a lot more people have lost benefits through sanctions. The poorest and lowest earners in the Country have faced an unprecedented squeeze on living standards. They have less cash to spend in the economy, meaning demand has fallen off a cliff. Unlike the rich who have got a 5% tax cut, the poorest spend every penny they have. Reducing their income as Osborne has is economic insanity.

          • Steven


    • Daniel Maris

      Good idea then to reduce tax for the richest portion of the population…not. Sent entirely the wrong message, but anyway your understanding of the situation is not very subtle. What happens when your policy collapses the economy? send you into a downward spiral. Let’s suppose the economy lost 20% of its value on that scenario, how does that “solve” our problems. It might take us 20 years to recover from that.

      I don’t think the Tories have particularly got their spending plans wrong in the round – it’s what they have been doing on the taxing and spending that is wrong. Plus, they refuse to tackle some key macro issues – mass immigration and free trade both of which sign you up to the post-affluent society.

      • Andy

        A better idea would have been to abolished the increase in the Top Rate – which had only just taken effect – immediately. It was a nasty, cynical ploy by the evil minded Labour Party. The politics of class envy is disgusting and disgraceful and you shouldn’t lower yourself to that level.

        Better idea would have been to plan for a Flat Tax. And to have started to introduce it.

        Better idea would have been to have slashed Corporation Tax immediately and start to lower National Insurance. Abolish Capital Gains Tax too.

        Better idea would have been to have held a Star Chamber and gone through every single item of Government expenditure and done proper cuts. If you examine the growth of Government expenditure over the period of the last Labour Government you might actually begin to ask some intelligent questions.

  • Mycroft

    The fact is that anything can happen over a couple of years, remember how people were writing Obama off? The one sure way for the Tories to lose is for them to write off the election in advance. Though I can’t see them doing better than at the last election, they might hold their ground if the economy improves (expectations are so low on that that it wouldn’t have to improve enormously). I’m happy to see Ashcroft going, it is not good for someone to exert such influence merely because of his wealth.

    • Tim Reed

      “The fact is that anything can happen over a couple of years…”

      This is true, even of much shorter periods of time. Remember Gordon Brown’s famous election that wasn’t. He was doing fairly well in the polls shortly after taking over from Blair, and thought an early election would go his way and give him a proper mandate to be Prime Minister. Then the Conservatives trailed their inheritance tax policy at their autumn conference, and the polls reversed almost instantly, giving Gordon the jitters and an enormous headache.

      It’s bold policies that grab the public’s imagination that will change the Conservatives fortunes. I just don’t think they have the steel. They seem to be stuck in a groove of ‘more of the same’ in the hope that a recovering economy will save them in time for the next election. It won’t. They need to offer more than just a caretaker administration.

      • Andy

        You know I wish Gordon the moron Brown had called that election and won. Had he done so we would have had an election last year and teh Labour Party would have been shattered.

        • Tim Reed

          I think you’re right – another year or so of massive spending (the BrownBalls doctrine) and an election during the worst period of the economic downturn. We’d have got to see what Labour would have done had they been given the chance to stay after 2010.

          …but – the downside – I think they’d have then had no choice but to ditch Ed Balls after defeat. I prefer him in place – as shadow chancellor, he’s the best reminder of what’s to come after a Labour win.

      • Mycroft

        The trouble is that I don’t think that any bold policies the Tories might want to offer would get past what is in effect a Lib Demo veto power; and it doesn’t look as if Cameron and Osborne have much imagination anyhow. Cameron has made the situation even worse than necessary, besides. by so effectively cheesing off many people on the right.

        • Tim Reed

          Yes – there’s a double effect in play. Any sensible right-of-centre policies hampered or even scuppered by the LibDems, and a Conservative leadership that doesn’t seem to care much for it’s core voters anyway, to the point where it doesn’t appear to have the will to push hard to put the minority party in its place. No wonder UKIP are ascendant.

        • andagain

          I don’t think that any bold policies the Tories might want to offer would get past what is in effect a Lib Demo veto power

          They got tuition fees past them. They trouble is that they would have to give the LibDems something in exchange for this help – and the right wing of the Conservative Party – perhaps I should say the anti-Cameron wing – would veto that.

  • Daniel Maris

    Ashcroft may have all the charm of a reptile spied crawling out of the bread bin, but at least – unlike Osborne’s party (it’s not really Cameron’s party, let’s be honest) – he has his feet firmly planted on planet Earth.

    Did they really think they could let bankers award themselves million pound bonuses, reduce the top tax rates, remove child benefit from middle income families, allow their business chums to pay no tax on their businesses and fail to deliver growth…and then still get re-elected? Only chancer like Shapps could persuade themselves to believe that.

    This will do much to destabilise the Westminster Tories – perhaps that is the intention.

    • Tony Quintus

      Do Labour really think they can spend 13 years grinding the country into the ground, hiring everybody in sight, watching the NHS kill thousands of people, sending the military into 2 major (and several minor) wars on a peacetime budget and give away billions of pounds and vast traches of sovreign power to the EU then expect people to forget all about it in 5 short years and blame all the problems on the Tories?
      The biggest problem the Tories have right now is the same one they had at the election, those at the top couldn’t run a campaign to save their lives, they missed a thousand open goals against Brown and they’re doing no better now. Change is needed, the backbenches must put shapps to the sword and start a real campaign for re-election TODAY!

  • Reasonable Telemachus

    Ashcroft already talking to Labour. It is all over for the Cons.

    • ArchiePonsonby

      He’s already pulled his dosh. Can’t be good for Cameron.

      • Daniel Maris

        What’s he up to then? He always up to something…Looking for a grand coalition?

        • ArchiePonsonby

          Ashcroft or Cameron? In the latter’s case it’s easy: he’s looking after himself and fuck everything else.

    • Tony Quintus

      Ashcroft talks to everybody, and he hasn’t pulled his dosh, we are at the bottom of an electoral cycle, he isn’t giving money to anyone.

  • White Wednesday

    Who dares wins.

    But Cameron and Osborne don’t do daring and Ashcroft for one knows it. That’s probably why he is giving up on Dave. Then again, is the party itself up for daring? i.e. dump the two clowns in Downing Street and set out a radical reforming yet highly supportable agenda.

  • S.M. MacLean

    Could not get pdf file to open… 🙁

  • Archimedes

    The problems with the Tories is that, at the leadership level, they seem to have forgotten what used to be one of the core components of conservatism: populism. They seem to think that they can’t win the media with populist policies, but they certainly can’t win an election without them, and a political party without a populist base is a political party that cannot reinvent itself – the LibDems are proof of that.

    The difference between Conservative populism and left-wing populism is that left-wing populism pursues unsustainable policies almost exclusively concerned with matters financial, where Conservative populism used to be able to fuse popular concerns with sustainable policy making. It means breaking out of the line of thought that adheres only to what is considered sensible in the most narrow of terms.

    Incidentally, instead of pussyfooting around with leadership challenges, perhaps the backbenchers would be better employed in acknowledging some of the practicalities of government and attempting to find populist policies within that. The Conservatives don’t need to out-UKIP UKIP, but they certainly need to be populist, and they need to do their homework and go deep to achieve that. Messing around with leadership challenges is distracting them from having a future.

    • Reasonable Telemachus

      I guess your comment on left wing populism fails to take account of the opinion polls

      • Archimedes


    • Daniel Maris

      I agree broadly. Populism is necessary to success in democratic politics. At its best it means being in close touch with your public, being responsive to their needs. The Tories have become terribly confused about what they believe, what the general public believe, what their supporters believe. Gay marriage was probably a good example of that of the disconnect in operation. There was no need for the Tories to be pro-Gay Marriage. There was no reason they couldn’t have stood by a traditional understanding of marriage – except people like Cameron and most of the Cabinet don’t believe in that traditional understanding.

      And yes, Labour have the same problem. The days when their welfare policies were closely aligned with public perceptions are long gone.

      Both parties are adrift on mass immigration, in complete denial about the way it is destabilising the country. As long as the present government witters on about “net migration” they will demonstrate just how out of touch they are.

      I think the present crisis is far deeper than anyone, including me, thought to begin with. So many decades of relatively automatic growth have blinded us to how much the rules of the game have changed and have created this post-affluent society where disposable income is being whittled away.

  • Scrapper

    It doesn’t matter.
    We are always doomed,
    Whether it’s 2015, 2055 or 2066.
    1066 and we were doomed.
    If it’s a crumb of comfort, milliband and co are doomed.
    Doom is not something to be afraid of.
    Just get on with the show.
    Cameron’ll see it through, whatever.
    BTW Fraser, I watched morning TV this morning, something I rarely do. Awful. How about Speccie putting out a decent TV chat show on weekend mornings, for the nation’s edification?

    • Reasonable Telemachus

      Miliband and co are not only not doomed but will save the rest of us

      • Tony Quintus

        Not doomed? The country certainly is if they get into power.

  • Jupiter

    Whatever happens at the next election, there is one absolute certainty – that pillock Milipede will never be PM

    • Reasonable Telemachus

      No but the charismatic one will

  • The Red Bladder

    Well I’ve rolled the bones, examined the entrails of a few chickens and held a rather prolonged table turning session. The result of the 2015 elections I can now predict with certainty. There will be winners, lots of them and there will be losers, lots of them as well. There will be a couple of major surprises, legions of lost deposits and a few cries of “foul”. Details? Oh, you want details. Well I suppose we’ll all have to wait until the day for those. Mumbo jumbo can only do so much you know.

  • ArtificialIntelligence

    Is there a “shy Tory” effect here? And what about the “Kinnock Effect”, i.e. people having doubts when they imagine Miliband as PM?

    • Widggget

      Sounds like grasping at straws to me AI!

      Fraser is dead right – if the Tories don’t radically change course they’re doomed. (That can only mean ditching Cameron, Osborn, Maude, Letwin etc)

      • ArtificialIntelligence

        It isn’t, but on the big issues there’s absolutely nothing they can do policy-wise, so the polls being wrong is all there is.

        • Daniel Maris

          Yes, that’s exactly what we humans call “grasping at straws” AI. Clearly you are artificially intelligent and not truly so, since you don’t seem to understand the meaning of the phrase! 🙂