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What Lord Ashcroft’s breakup with the Tories means for David Cameron

24 February 2013

4:43 PM

24 February 2013

4:43 PM

Now Lord Ashcroft has withdrawn his funding (£) from the Tory party, what implications does the move have for David Cameron? Much like losing Britain’s AAA rating this week, it’s less about the actual impact for his government but the message it sends out about where they are going. As the Sunday Times reports today, the Tory peer has lost all faith in Conservatives’ ability to win the next election:

‘It comes amid mounting pessimism among Tory supporters about the prospects of victory. Although Ashcroft has not publicly expressed doubts over the party’s ability to win, privately he is said to fear Labour is likely to secure more seats. A source close to Ashcroft said: “He feels he has done his bit.”’

Although Ladbrokes still has the odds of a Tory majority at 4/1, Ashcroft commented to a friend recently that he wouldn’t place money even on those odds. The peer seems to have concluded this is not the best use of his money. The concern for Cameron is whether other the other big donors will follow his lead.

As I’ve examined before, Ashcroft has been Cameron’s biggest single supporter during his leadership, donating £10 million to the party. Look at this chart to see how much he has given over the past five years compared to the other big donors:

Ashcroft’s withdrawal is not unexpected. Firstly, as the above chart shows, he’s been donating less and less to the party (although one has to remember the electoral cycle), instead pushing his funds towards ever-growing ConservativeHome and his valuable polling exercises. It’s interesting that Ashcroft feels he can now have more influence outside the party than in.

The second was the hiring of Lynton Crosby. Ashcroft argued strongly against bringing in the Australian consultant.His tongue-firmly-in-cheek advice letter to Crosby bemoaned the abundance of people trying to head up strategy — suggesting he was beginning to feel the party didn’t need his voice.

Where does this leave the Tories? His expertise (possibly even more than his money) will be the key commodity missed, as seen in his sophisticated target seats strategy at the 2010 election. Cameron left Ashcroft to run the operation without any interface, which came very close to unseating Ed Balls. The Liam Fox/David Davis backed-Conservative Voice are left to pick up the slack with their 25 + 25 seat plan for seats to hold and gain, as well as CCHQ’s 40 + 40 strategy. Both lack the Ashcroft firepower.

Although Labour are calling the move a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister, Ashcroft’s withdrawal is more an indictment of what the last two years of government has done to the Tory party. Ashcroft believes the ragged process of coalition has added five points to Labour and believes the Conservatives need to add ten points to their current voting intentions polling to gain a majority. He doesn’t see where those ten points will come from,  given the lack of economic progress.

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