UK Tory Party Conference Day 3

Started off with a breakfast meeting which included a presentation on poll and focus group results of the Tory Party. Around 50 people there and the panel included Charlie Whelan, who is a very well known spin doctor who used to work for Gordon Brown – the next UK Prime Minister.

I’m getting a copy of the full data, so will post more on this in the future. It was a stark presentation though on how a negative brand can be so fatal to a party. One piece of research described the Tory Immigration Policy to a group of voters without saying whose policy it was. 64% said they agreed with it. Another group were told the same policy but told it was the Tory policy – only 30% agreed with it.

The bottom line is that the public so doubt the motives of the Conservative Party, that it doesn’t matter how good your policies are, they can’t win without changing their brand. Blair managed to do this to old Labour by scrapping the Section 4 commitment to nationalisation. The Tory job is harder as they have no one big thing they can do.

This is probably National’s biggest debt to Don Brash – restoring the brand. After the wipe-out in 2002 it was miserable being a National parliamentary staffer and party supporter. People would feel *sorry* for you. God I hated that. Brash has restored the brand so that people can feel proud to say yeah I’m a Nat. Few can say that in the UK about the Tories. However in Australia saying you support Howard is popular and acceptable.

Voters were also asked to place MPs on a scale from -100 (ultra left – say George Galloway) to +100. Gordon Brown got around -15. Labour around -12. Tony Blair got +4 – dead in the centre (the population is +2) so has positioned himself more centrist than his party. Now Ken Clarke was +24 and he is regarded as the left of the Conservative Party. Michael Howard got +52, and you can not win elections from out there.

There was some discussion of whom would be best placed to beat Gordon Brown. Charlie Whelan said that David Cameron is the one he would worry about most if he still worked for Brown. This is against the perceived wisdom that Clarke is the one most able to win. Whelan told a story of how at the last Tory leadership election Michael Portillo was the one they feared most. So what they did was type up a fake memo about how Ken Clarke was in fact the one they thought could damage them most, and leaked it to the media. This resulted in helping Clarke’s campaign at the expense of Portillo. Very cunning indeed!

We than had David Davis speak to conference. He was frankly disappointing. A good speech but not a great speech. I think it will lead to the leadership race becoming tighter.

In the afternoon was Liam Fox. He is the shadow foreign secretary and hence concentrated on foreign issues. At one point he talked about the EU and how the new members coming from Eastern Europe have just thrown off one repressive regime and don’t want to endure another one. When I suggested to some of the locals that it was a bit harsh to compare the USSR to the EU, I was firmly told not at all – well maybe only to Stalin 🙂

The real highlight of the day was former leader William Hague. Gave a superb and confident speech that got everyone talking. There seems to be a pattern that MPs who struggle when leader, often gain a new level of ability and confidence once they are former leaders. I can see Hague still as Prime Minister one day.

Anyway now off to meet Ian Paisley and the Democratic Ulster Unionists!

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