Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Muppet Arms Revisited – Red and Blue Tories

Given my reckoning that the Labour vote’s about as low as it can go, Andy Darley has responded “Oh, I dunno - they haven't reached the point that the Tories did, where they poisoned an entire generation of people like us from ever voting for them ever again, under any circumstances…” – which in some ways is true, though my point is that, with all they’ve already done, I don’t know what they could do that would be worse. Iraq ‘poisoned’ quite a lot of people from voting Labour, even if it’s becoming a less impassioned issue for many voters, and many people regard them as arrogant and crooked, while I feel ill every time another minister announces something that in many other countries would smack of fascism (surely Labour is ‘poisoning’ a great number of liberal-minded voters, yet I fear many of them will be too fair and understanding to the authoritarian gits for their own good). Yet they’re still flatlining ‘only’ at about the level they got in 1983, and surely they’d have to do something unthinkably calamitous to go any lower?

Mind you, as you say, it’s happened to other parties before now, and not just generationally. One of my most vivid by-election memories (even more than dogs sinking their teeth into me) is canvassing at Christchurch, where a tiny old lady listened as I asked politely if we could rely on her vote. “Well, I’ve always voted Tory,” she began hesitantly, then leaped up to seize me by the shoulders and shake me, “but you’ve got to get the bastards out!” And the counter-argument to Labour’s arrogant ‘Iraq is fading as an issue’ is that I remember Conrad Russell telling me that, as he was wrestling with a move from Labour to Liberal half a century after the First World War , his father told him that “he could never vote for the party of the Somme”.

In many ways that Tory ‘poison’ is still Labour’s greatest asset. The Tory recovery, limited and South-dominated as it is, is dangerous to us not just because it directly threatens our seats – in the kind of hand-to-hand fighting we’re now seeing, I don’t think the Tories should be anywhere near as confident of Lib Dem defeats as they pretend to be – but because people in the Labour seats in which we hope to progress still hate and fear the Tories.

Even fighting a safe Labour seat in 2001, where Mrs Thatcher at the height of her success hadn’t come within a mile of winning and when I was challenging in a year that the Tories were about to suffer their second-worst defeat since 1832, half the voters I spoke to that would have liked to have voted for me said they couldn’t because they were afraid the Tories could get in. It’s a spin that every Labour canvasser, candidate and Cabinet Minster uses shamelessly, and it works. I don’t have any answer to it – save that “It’s a lie! It’s a lie! It’s a great big lie!” – but if there’s a strategic message the Lib Dems need to work on, it’s an answer to that fear of the Tories now that they’re slightly on the up. I don’t think they threaten our seats anywhere near as badly as most commentators say, but they threaten our progress against Labour terribly.

Ironically, then, a large part of the answer to ‘Why didn’t Labour do even worse?’ must be that everyone knew the Tories were starting to do better, and unhappy Labour voters were simply too scared to leave the fold. I can’t see Labour doing much worse soon because I can’t see the Tories collapsing back soon to their 1990s nadir.

I’ll go back to thinking about positive suggestions for what Lib Dems could do next. I have three swirling round in my head for later, particularly on a party I've not mentioned yet…

Oh, and good luck to the lovely Andy that his poorly blog might be up and running again soon. I like to read it.

I'm up and running again, but the RSS feed is bust so I don't show on Lib Dem blogs.

I fought a safe Labour seat in 2001 and got exactly the same reaction. I also have a Christchurch story: mine is of a tall, silver-haired Scot, surely a retired oil rig worker and caber-tosser, opening his door, fixing me with a beady eye, and cutting me off before I could speak by saying "You're wasting your time, laddie". I drew breath to ask why but he didn't give me a chance. "I'm already voting for you. And so is everybody else."

Labour will maybe not get more hated as such, but people will grow more and more contemptuous, impatient and dismissive the longer it takes them to go away, and that will feed into the dislike to magnify it, in the way that wind makes a cold day colder.
Glad to see you're functional again, and I love your cold wind analogy - and Christchurch story. There can never be too many of those.

Now it's thirteen years later and very back in the Tory fold, I can probably repeat one I haven't told in print before.

I was part of a team canvassing the hardest Tory area, and one road wasn't going well. We were even shouted at by outraged residents objecting to us taking our holidays to visit them. Meeting up on the pavement, the tales of woe were told, as we all presented the worst canvassing figures we'd encountered. Standing by was the candidate, head on one side, a beatific smile on her face. Once we'd all finished, Diana cut in. "They're all fascists," she said. "But they're going to vote for me."
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