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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’  

Children's TV shows like Grange Hill used to connect us to the real world

Grace Dent
An Indian bookseller waits for customers at a roadside stall on World Book and Copyright Day in Mumbai  

Novel translation lets us know what is really happening in the world

Boyd Tonkin
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine