The Conservative Party is planning to target middle-class drivers with direct mail requests for money and support in the run-up to the forthcoming local and European elections.
Strategists at Tory Central Office want to buy the membership lists of motoring organisations such as the Automobile Association (AA) and the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) so that they can send out mailshots seeking funds. They are also approaching professional list brokers about purchasing the names of middle-class drivers who could be targeted with Conservative propaganda.
The Tory leader believes that motorists, particularly those who live in rural areas, could be won over because of their concerns about the rise in fuel duty. Focus group research and polling has revealed growing discontent with the Government among drivers about increases in motoring taxes, which the Tories will claim amount to pounds 32bn.
However, Mr Hague's decision to deploy aggressive marketing techniques, such as buying lists of potential supporters, will be seized on by Labour as a sign of increasing desperation at Central Office. The Tories faced a fierce backlash last year when they tried to buy the list of supporters of the Countryside Alliance.
The direct mail fund-raising drive is evidence of a growing black hole in the Tory party's accounts. Last week, Michael Ashcroft, the multi-millionaire businessman and Conservative treasurer, had warned backbenchers that financial crisis was looming.
In a private address to the 1922 committee, he said large donations to the Tory party had slumped so dramatically since Labour came to power that they would have to make local fund-raising a priority in the coming months. Annual giving to the Conservatives has dropped by almost pounds 30m since the general election.
Backbenchers were ordered to go out into their constituencies and organise events to raise millions of pounds for party headquarters. The instruction has infuriated many MPs who in the past have always concentrated on finding cash for their local associations rather than Central Office.
Fund-raisers at Tory headquarters, run by Mr Ashcroft and Archie Norman, the Conservative Chief Executive, have decided that they must transfer their attention to getting a lot of small donations because many of the large benefactors have switched to the Labour party.
They are planning to concentrate on direct marketing techniques to raise money from people who might not have thought of giving to a political party before. This will mean buying up lists of the names and addresses of people who belong to relevant interest groups.
Motorists have been identified as the first group to target for funds and support. The fund-raising department is now looking at ways to get a list of relevant names and addresses. They want to approach the AA and RAC as well as going to professional list brokers.
"Car owners feel they are being got at; they are reminded every time they go to the petrol tanks that their taxes are being put up," one senior official said. "They don't like being made to feel guilty about driving by John `Two Jags' Prescott."
According to the Direct Marketing Association, it would cost the Conservatives around pounds 150 to buy a list of 1,000 names. However, the fund-raisers believe this would be a wise investment.
"The general principle is that sending a well-written piece of direct mail to a well-chosen audience is going to at least pay for itself," one Tory director said. "It's the way forward as the alternative to expecting a few people with very deep pockets to give."
Conservative Central Office received cash gifts worth pounds 9.7m in the year after the general election, compared with pounds 38.2m the previous year. Voluntary contributions from constituency parties fell by almost a half, from pounds 1.1m to pounds 630,000. The last annual accounts, published in November, showed that the Tories had a pounds 3.6m overdraft and outstanding loans worth pounds 7.6m.
Mr Ashcroft is said to be underwriting the party to the tune of around pounds 8m. However, there have been severe cutbacks, including dozens of redundancies, at Central Office.
t Conservative leader William Hague yesterday launched his party's campaign for the Scottish elections by pledging to make the new parliament "a success for Scotland and the United Kingdom". "The devolution argument has come and gone - and we are not going to reopen it," Mr Hague told the Scottish Tory Conference in Perth.
CAN THE CAR YOU DRIVE REALLY TELL OTHERS HOW YOU VOTE?
The Clio girl is in her 20s, single and enjoying it. She very much likes her freedom and her car is a reflection of that. She's currently living in rented accommodation but she is considering looking for a mortgage. She lives and works in town (in order to be close to everything important that's going on) and saves her money to go on holiday at least once a year. Clio girl votes New Labour because deep down she would quite like to be one of "Blair's Babes".
The car driver who was formerly known as Mr/Miss Escort, the boy racer. Usually in his or her late teens or early 20s, and can't afford an Escort these days. The sound system will be the most important feature and worth splashing out on, as the car is all about image rather than speed. Fiesta boy/girl still lives at home with his or her parents, and certainly can't be bothered to vote, because politics is boring "and they're all liars anyway".
Traditionally male, but less so now. Usually late 30s, and in middle to senior management. The car has the sort of understated, powerful presence they dream of having in the office, instead of the VW Passat reliability they ooze. It's also the car they would own if they didn't have the company Beamer. Voted Tory until 1997 as it was the done thing for management, but New Labour is confusing them so they voted against the grain while secretly hoping Blair messes it up.
People Mover Family
Inevitably the people mover is owned by a family, often one in which both husband and wife were involved in the Scouts/Girl Guides or some other youth movement. Deep down they crave acceptance and feel obliged to volunteer to help out, hence a vehicle which can transport half the neighbourhood kids to Saturday morning sports. They vote New Labour and truly believe that "things can only get better" with Tony in charge.
Married, grown-up Mondeo Man, who has resisted the temptation to buy a people mover.. Has a couple of dogs, and lives closer to the country than the suburbs. Volvo Man may have paid off his mortgage by now, and is living comfortably in a detached house with a large back garden in which he enjoys pottering around. Volvo men usually vote Tory, although some were tempted to vote Labour in 1997, "because it was time for a change, wasn't it?"
A decade ago she would have been driving a 2CV. She is either a schoolteacher or mother of young children and is interested in the environment. She's middle class, lives in a cottage, wears wellies at the weekend and has a blanket, or a cushion, on the back seat. She votes Liberal Democrat because they're a nice, sensible party, and they care about things like the environment. It's got nothing to do with her crush on Paddy Ashdown.
The sports-utility vehicle driver wants a car that is practical, yet suggests adventure. Usually a man, possibly one going through a mid-life crisis. Will have a global positioning compass in the utility compartment or on the dashboard. The four-wheel drive is rarely needed, unless it snows, and the most muck the car sees is when visiting a garden centre. The Off-Roader is the swing voter, very keen to fit in, who waits to see how everyone else is going to vote first.Reuse content