Mitt Romney famously said that 47% of America would never vote for Romney because 47% of the American population are on some form of State Benefit. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has a similar problem, but for different reasons. There is a significant proportion of the population who will never vote for the British Conservative party no matter what Cameron does. There is a visceral hatred of the Conservatives because of Conservative governments before the War, and the iconic conservative PM Margaret Thatcher more recently.
Cameron and his ally, Member of Parliament George Osborne are both millionaires. They have inherited this money. They have not worked for it. They appear to be 1930’s Conservatives and happy with it. They do not seem worried that the poor and the disabled die and suffer. Cameron had a disabled son who died, but this has not in any noticeable way softened the Conservative assaults on the disabled.
So there is a sizeable proportion of the electorate the Conservatives might as well write off. On here is similarly a significant proportion of the population who will never vote Labour. Most constituencies do not change hands at General Elections. There are perhaps a hundred battleground seats that determine the result of every General Election. Elections are won and lost on differential turnout.
The chart below records results at the last six General Elections in Britain. There are 650 seats in the British Parliament. Some are held by Scottish Nationalists, Welsh Nationalists, Ulster Unionists, and various others. If a party or a coalition have a secure overall majority how the fringe parties vote is not important.
The chart sets out some interesting features of British politics. The Liberals for instance had more votes and a higher percentage of the vote in 1987 than in 2005, but won nearly three times as many seats in 2005 than in 1987. The Liberals are disproportionately impacted upon by how the large Conservative and Labour parties are doing. The best analogy is of a small fishing boat hit simultaneously by the wash from two ocean liners.
The Liberals have often benefited from “protest” votes, but currently they are in Government. Another problem is that the Liberal Democrats pledged before the 2010 General Election that they would not raise university tuition fees. Then in office they did raise university tuition fees. The Liberal Leader Nick Clegg apologised for this. Then Clegg’s humiliation was compounded by a spoof video! Currently (September 2013) in the opinion polls the Liberals are oscillating between 9% and 13% of the vote, which could mean complete wipe-out in May 2015.
Here’s the video:
UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, with currently no Members of Parliament, are also hovering between 9% and 13%. John Major won in 1992 with 14.09 million votes, but his vote dropped by 5 million in 1997. Election winning Tony Blair only increased Labour’s vote by two million votes. So it was much more Conservatives not voting than Labour supporters voting that was responsible for Blair’s landslide. Cameron’s support in 2010 was barely a million more voters than in 1997. Over 1997 to 2010 Labour lost nearly five million voters – but most simply did not vote for anyone.
So we have a huge pool of about four million traditional Conservative voters and nearly five million traditional Labour voters who just are not voting. Whichever party can galvanise its former supporters to turn out and vote in May 2015 will win.
Get Our Vote Out
The passive vote can be galvanised. As a Council candidate in Bradford in 1986 I increased the Labour vote 80% to win the third safest Conservative Council seat on Bradford Council. See Elected Councillor For Paradise.
In 1990 I increased my vote a further 48% to record the highest vote for any candidate in the ward since the ward was created in 1948. See Increased Majority In Paradise.
So how can David Cameron galvanise the “sleeping” Conservative vote without awakening the “sleeping” Labour vote? The obvious question is, “Why are they not voting?”. Are the Conservatives too Right, too Left, too vicious, too incompetent, or what? The Conservative Right say that under Thatcher the Tories won every election. So “Go Right”.
Other voices say that the Tories are seen as “the nasty Party”, and the “nasty” image of the Tories must be broken.
Many unkind souls suggest that “Black Wednesday” is the reason. On 16 September 1992 the pound collapsed, and Britain had to leave the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Interest rates rose from about 11% to 17% in a day. Britons abroad found that nobody wanted their pounds at any exchange rate, and the hole in the wall refused to give them the currency of the country they were in. The reputation of the Tories for economic competence was destroyed for a generation. Chancellor Norman Lamont did not resign because he had been following a policy agreed with Prime Minister John Major. Major was publicly identified with the policy and so he could not force Lamont’s resignation.
And who was working with Norman Lamont on Black Wednesday. Young David Cameron!
You can be sure that this photo will be reproduced a few times as we get closer to the next General Election. Although Cameron was really just a bag carrier rather than a player, he is indelibly associated with Lamont’s failure.
Has the present Conservative Government managed to make people think that they are economically competent? Truthfully, no.
Gordon Brown basically saved the world, and recent research indicates that the outgoing Labour government was economically much more competent than they are given credit for. Specifically, Labour did not cause the recession.
The problems with the bedroom tax and the Atos scandal around the assessment of disabled people -causing 200 deaths a week- have given Labour ammunition to galvanise its sleeping vote. The Tories are again displayed as the nasty party. An additional problem is that the Conservatives tried to unify six different kinds of benefit into a Universal Credit. The project has cost £34 million $53 million) and has hit huge software problems. The Minister has been trying to say that everything is “on track” when it is clear the project is in trouble. So the reputation of the Tories for managerial competence is collapsing.
There are problems with the Health Service. Labour set up the National Health Service in 1948. The Tories could only get re-elected by promising that the National Health Service would be safe with them. Over 60 Tory MPs and 120 Lords have investments in Health based companies that supply or compete with the National Health Service. The Tories reduced nurse numbers, and then found that hospital wards are dangerously understaffed.
The suggestion that the Tories are competent in Government has taken a great knock.
Labour has a commanding lead in the opinion polls, and has had that lead for over a year. Unless something unusual happens, Labour will have an overall majority of about 40 after the General Election in May 2015.
The Liberals will almost certainly lose seats, and in most cases the winner in those constituencies will be a Conservative. So the arithmetic position is that the Tories will lose a lot to Labour, and win some from the Liberals. However, the Conservative MPs who are going to lose their seats to Labour are panicking. They want to see something done now!
What Magic Bullet?
Cameron needs to do something that will make Conservative voters happy to vote Conservative. Mrs Thatcher did well with the Falklands War, .even though the war was caused by her Government’s incompetence. A short sharp successful war is politically a good thing for a Government. After long campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq the British people have no enthusiasm for a campaign or intervention in Syria. Or anywhere else.
Mrs Thatcher converted many floating and Labour voters to Tory by allowing people living in Council properties and Housing Association properties to buy their own homes at up to a third off the market value. That was hugely popular among the winners.
Mrs Thatcher also privatised a number of companies. Anyone could register to buy shares in advance, buy the shares, and sell them on the Stock Market soon after for a good profit. That was hugely popular among the winners.
What Can Cameron Do? Raising The Minimum Wage Might Help
Cameron reduced taxation for anyone earning £150,000 ($234,000). However, most people on this level of income already vote Conservative. Labour has contrasted this sharply with Cameron’s additional taxation and cost of living increases for almost everyone else. Cameron intended that Welfare Reform would be his flagship. He seriously thought that in a recession he could reduce the numbers of people on state benefits. Even if the Minister responsible had not so comprehensively fouled up (see above) the idea was faulty. So what can he do now?
One serious suggestion is to raise the minimum wage significantly. The British minimum wage currently stands at £6.19 ($9.63) and is due to rise to £6.31 ($9.82) in October 2013. The trade unions are campaigning for in increase to £8.55 ($13.31). Supposing Cameron was to say that to get people off benefits the wages they can earn have to be significantly better than benefits? So, to get people off benefits Cameron increases the minimum wage to say £9.00 ($14.01).? Unlike most Government projects this can be implemented by a simple announcement.
- Employers by law must pay it. Millions of people will immediately feel the impact in their wage packets. Being low waged, they will spend the money immediately, creating jobs in Britain.
- Workers would pay more tax and National Insurance on their extra pay, which will pay the increase for the low paid staff the Government employs.
- There are huge numbers of people earning more than the minimum wage but less than £9 an hour who will all immediately have a pay rise, too.
- Many of those people will then ask for further pay rises to maintain the differential between minimum wage and their previously elevated status.
“The near-doubling of the minimum wage in 1949 had none of the negative effects critics had predicted. Unemployment did not rise and business activity was not curtailed. A 1954 Labor Department study found at least 1.3 million people received immediate raises as soon as the increase went into effect.” (Huffington Post)
Were Cameron to take this bold step, millions of people would know that their significant pay increase was because of the Conservatives, not Labour. Labour could not object. The trade unions could not object. Pubs and restaurants and food shops and clothes shops would all see more income. Some jobs might be lost, but many more jobs would be created.
The effects would be inflationary. But that would be a problem for Cameron’s second term. In a second term, with a grateful Conservative majority in Parliament, Cameron would have the opportunity to show what the Conservatives can do when untrammelled.
Other possibilities are to denationalise the Health Service or the railway company Railtrack, which Labour re-nationalised after private enterprise failed. There is not time to prepare the psychological ground, to get the legislation through, and to have the sale actually happen before Labour swept back to power in May 2015.
Cameron is running out of options. Can he prove himself to be the Man Margaret Thatcher was?