Lord Ashcroft’s Minority Verdict

I have been reading Michael Ashcroft’s account of the work he and his team did in the marginal seats in the run up to 2010 election. It is not much like the press accounts I have seen of it. Far from laying into former colleagues, or complaining that the Conservatives did not win, he provides a rational and balanced analysis of what went right and what went wrong in the long and short campaigns.

His figures show that Conservative candidates did do better than the national swing in the target seats where he helped them put in the extra effort. Hard work works. Those who said he wasted his efforts were wrong. He defends himself against the charge that he sought to buy an election. As he points out, all parties could have run targetted campaigns as the Conservatives did. Money does not always buy success, as the Referendum party proved in 1997, and as Labour showed in 2010.

He also goes a long way to reinforce my view that running a campaign based on negatives about opponents is not the way to electoral success. His polling showed that many more people had a dim view of Mr brown and the government he led than wanted to vote Conservative. The Conservatives did need to explain what they were going to do, and to show they understood the wishes of the people and complexity of the problems we face, more than they needed to demolish Mr Brown again.

I only found myself in disagreement over one issue – tax. Lord Ashcroft believed that offering tax cuts would not work. Yet he concedes that when the Conservatives did offer specific tax cuts, no matter what they were , they polled well and helped raise the national poll ratings of the party. He claims more general tax promsies would not have been believed. That would depend on what was also said about economic growth and public spending. He could have added that in 1997 Mr Blair was adamant Labour would not raise taxes, and did much to campaign against the tax increases Mr Major had introduced. This was an important argument which helped Labour’s victory.


  1. Stuart Fairney
    October 4, 2010

    "He could have added that in 1997 Mr Blair was adamant Labour would not raise taxes, and did much to campaign against the tax increases Mr Major had introduced"

    I fear you must be mistaken, this would mean Mr Blair's actions differed from his words??

  2. P H
    October 4, 2010

    Also the breaking of the "Cast Iron Promise" on the Lisbon treaty showed clearly what was likely to come from the tories – at least this can now be blamed on the Liberals.

  3. NickW
    October 4, 2010

    The way to do tax cuts is to pre announce long term future tax reductions for businesses and individuals and make sure that they are locked into place and cannot be undone.

    What this will do is encourage companies and individuals to stay in the UK, invest in the UK and move to the UK.
    It will increase tax revenue thereby cutting the ground from under the socialist's feet, (provided that the public is properly informed about the relationship between tax rates and total revenue).
    Because there is no immediate reduction in tax rates, there will be no immediate adverse effect on the Government's tax take.

  4. Robert Taggart
    October 4, 2010

    Time to do your homework… with the forthcoming referendum regarding electoral reform. Will this not create less safe seats and more marginals ? particularly Liebour / Tory marginals ?
    For the record, one will be supporting the YES campaign – so many fewer safe Liebour seats… must be a good thing ? !

  5. P H
    October 4, 2010

    At last a sense of direction from "we will preserve child benefit" Osborne on child benefits alas it is clearly REVERSE.

    Another broken promise, silly anomalies for dual income families and why announce bad new in advance so that Labour can make a field day of it until 2013.

    Great own goal in every direction.

  6. Derek Buxton
    October 4, 2010

    Here in the NW we were ignored, a candidate working for the party in London was put up against the sitting local Lib-Dem. I never saw the man at all so I am sure that many others had the same lack. There was no fight, and I am sure that this was the case in many parts. Also there was no real Manifesto that dealt with the problems we have, it was all "trust us, we are different". I did not believe it then and have been proven correct. How many more things have been ceded to the EU since the election?

    1. Robert Taggart
      October 5, 2010

      Likewise, Cheadle (Cheshire).

  7. P H
    October 4, 2010

    So with the new children's benefit someone on £88,000 with four kids and a wife not working will be about £9,000 better off if he splits the job 50/50 with her and they each take £44,000 salary each.

    And someone with children earning near £44,000 should do no overtime or bother looking for promotion.

    All sound very fair and a great incentive to work to me well done chancellor.

    1. Rose
      October 5, 2010

      The last nail in the coffin of paternal responsibility? And of maternal dedication to the most important job a woman will ever do?

      1. P H
        October 5, 2010

        Spot on – but governments like people to do taxable work. Fine to work at nursery school and pay tax and pay someone else to look after yours (providing you have all the training certificates, checks, and a green, right on, non judgemental attitude). But look after your own children that is difficult to tax. Look after yours and a couple of neighbours children then yes they can and do licence, control and tax that.

        (on grounds of health and safety child protection or some other ruse).

  8. A.Sedgwick
    October 4, 2010

    Minority verdict is most apt – about 23% of the total electorate voted for the Conservative Party. Why? Because DC had shifted the party towards the Liberal wing, which became abundantly clear post election. The reneging of the EU referendum and the waffle, particularly from WH, that followed killed more votes than Mr. Ashcroft ever achieved with his organisation skills. Similarly serious immigration controls and deportations, zero tolerance law and order, repeal of HR laws and other non tax matters were strong vote winners that were ignored, some lipservice was spun, but then weakened further by the coalition agreement..
    There is a level of political honesty in party members financially supporting a political party even if they are wealthy or a trade union. What is totally dishonest is the current closed shop of political parties voting themselves in perpuity state funding. This issue was aired again on Radio 4 last night with the usual ignorance of democracy and the market. If a party cannot be supported by its members it should go bust.

  9. Freeborn John
    October 5, 2010

    So glad I didn't Tory, but 5 years of another unelected PM giving powers away to Brussels is going to be a very long parliament indeed. The sooner he is gone the better.

  10. Alan Jutson
    October 5, 2010

    You did not win an overall majority, because you simply did not connect with the majority of the people's thoughts, Simple as that.

    The wonder is how Labour got so many votes. The answer is probably because they did not trust or understand your Politics, Policies or Party.

  11. Martin
    October 5, 2010

    Maybe the Conservatives trouble was that they had too much money!
    Less money might have meant more care in how it was spent. More money can mean more chance of making tactical mistakes.

    The Conservatives piled up votes in their safe seats, Labour didn't . Labour had less money than the Conservatives but targeted it better. Labour clearly realised they were going to lose and embarked on an effective damage limitation exercise to stop a heavy defeat turning into a rout.

  12. Bill
    October 5, 2010

    But surely the point here is to forestall union agitation later in the year. That is how I read the first action of the Coalition cabinet in giving itself a paycut. The government has to show that it is taking the medicine which is being dished out to everyone else. In four years or so, tax breaks can be given to secure an election win in 2015.

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