Dennis Kavanagh: The party's right wing is wrong: leader did well not to listen

Share
Related Topics

The Conservatives' 2010 election campaign gained a bad press, not least from party members. As they mingle at the Birmingham conference, activists, particularly on the right, mutter that the party could have won outright had Cameron listened to them.

In our new book The British General Election of 2010, Philip Cowley and I argue that the prescriptions of the right are mistaken. Many have complained that Cameron's modernising strategy neglected tax cuts and immigration curbs. But, given the large lead the party already enjoyed on these issues, what further benefit would it have gained? It may merely have weakened the party's standing among the liberal-minded people Cameron had been trying to court.

The party's private post-election polls found that voters who considered voting Tory but in the end did not do so most often mentioned worries that it still stood for the rich, and would remove tax credits or free bus passes for the elderly, recalling the phrase "the same old Tories". Cameron needed to go further to convince voters the party had changed.

Conservative strategists need to look elsewhere. The party made few inroads in seats with a relatively large ethnic minority vote or a large public-sector workforce or many on welfare benefits – what some Cameroons called "Labour's client state". And Scotland is still a no-go country for Conservatives.

Cameron's aides disagree that a shift to the right would have achieved greater success with these groups. And such a campaign would not have helped his efforts to court Liberal Democrats after polling day, nor would it have helped Clegg to persuade his party to form a coalition. That they were able to form a coalition was a mark of Cameron's progress in changing his party, at elite level at least, even if it did not deliver a majority of seats.

The party had hoped for more success from its heavy investment in the battleground seats. But the gains made an important difference. With a uniform national swing, the Conservatives would have fallen to 291 seats, Labour increased to 264 and the Lib Dems would have had 64. Labour would also have been able to form a majority coalition with the Lib Dems.

Other modernising initiatives, notably the selection of more female and ethnic minority candidates via the A-list, had mixed results. Women candidates performed no better than men. Where an ethnic minority Tory fought a seat contested by a white predecessor in 2005, the party vote increased by less than where a white candidate fought both elections. Selecting ethnic minority candidates had symbolic importance for the party leadership but may have cost it votes.

The 2010 result needs to be seen in the broader context of political change. The decline of the two-party system, the growth of "other" parties (winning nearly 100 seats in the past two elections) and a decline in the number of marginal seats make hung parliaments increasingly likely. The process of "coalitionising" British politics – to quote Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary – is one to which we may need to become accustomed.

A paradox of the election is that Cameron was forced to redraw the political landscape out of political weakness. In contrast, Tony Blair was unable to redraw it in 1997 – a Lab/Lib Dem coalition and possible electoral reform – because he was too strong.

Dennis Kavanagh and Philip Cowley's The British General Election of 2010 is published by Palgrave Macmillan

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Financial Director / FD / Senior Finance Manager

Up to 70k DOE: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Financial Director ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company has been manufacturing high quali...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is the fairest onl...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Production Planner is require...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

No more big characters or Tory clowns like Boris Johnson. London desperately needs a boring mayor

Rachel Holdsworth
Cilla Black lived her life in front of the lens, whether on television or her earlier pop career  

Cilla Black death: A sad farewell to the singer who gave us a 'lorra, lorra laughs'

Gerard Gilbert
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen