Paul Baverstock: Howard's biggest problem is that floating voters just don't like him

Share

The Conservatives have three fundamental problems to overcome if they are to win on 5 May. Michael Howard is not personally liked by the electorate, people like Conservative policy but don't trust Conservatives' motives, and the narrowcast success of the Conservative campaign to date is in danger of eradicating the differential turnout they need to win.

The Conservatives have three fundamental problems to overcome if they are to win on 5 May. Michael Howard is not personally liked by the electorate, people like Conservative policy but don't trust Conservatives' motives, and the narrowcast success of the Conservative campaign to date is in danger of eradicating the differential turnout they need to win.

Mr Howard has integrity and ability; he is intellectually brilliant, verbally dextrous, energetic and committed. But, for the purposes of this election campaign he has been a sole trader. The few Conservative peers he has - Ken Clarke, William Hague and Michael Portillo - while doing a bit, are, in political terms, either semi-detached, semi-retired, or semi-departed. The Shadow Cabinet's best public performers - David Davis, Theresa May, David Willetts and Tim Yeo - are either fighting desperate rearguard constituency actions or keeping a very low profile out of blame's way. David Cameron and George Osbourne, the likeable "young bucks", are doing a great job but remain relatively unknown outside Westminster and, I would argue, need to be protected for the near future.

Perhaps the modern British media age demands that the Conservative campaign be focused on Mr Howard personally. But personalising the Conservative campaign on its leader is a big mistake. The problem is this: Mr Howard is not a sympathetic figure and floating voters don't like him. It's as simple as that. Focus groups mention his time as an authoritarian Home Secretary in the last Conservative Government, they mention his association with Margaret Thatcher, they mention Ann Widdecombe! Whatever the reason, he is not able to communicate publicly the charm he displays in private.

Since assuming the leadership, Mr Howard has been a considerable asset to Conservatives in the Westminster village. For the first time in many years the party is united and disciplined. The party has credibility with the political commentators - no mean feat given the credibility gap Mr Howard inherited. But he is not an asset with the all-important floating voters.

And the campaign has to broaden its appeal. Hitherto, the Conservative Party campaign is replete with what pollsters call "permission statements": "I'm not a racist, but ..." Their use aims to establish the honourable motives of the speaker, and to establish unimpeachable intentions for whatever policy announcement follows, however extreme. But it's not working: people still don't believe that the Conservatives mean well.

When pollsters test the policies, without revealing from which party they originate, the Conservatives score well. When the party is revealed, the Conservatives' score plummets.

A month ago, the Conservatives had a big lead over Labour in the "certain to vote" polling. That lead has gone. The Labour vote has hardened in parallel with the Conservative campaign - immigration, asylum and Gypsies have certainly captured the electorate's attention. The problem is that unless the party can persuade the electorate that a velvet glove surrounds its iron hand, those who might otherwise have not voted on 5 May will hold their noses and vote Labour.

So Mr Howard now needs to share the campaigning load with colleagues, to broaden the campaign's appeal by concentrating on issues such as pensions, hospitals and schools, on which the Conservatives offer good policy, and he needs to convince the electorate that his motives are humane.

Paul Baverstock is a former director of communications and strategy for the Conservative Party

React Now

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

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Supporters of New Democracy wave Greek flags during Antonis Samaras pre-election speech.  

Greece elections: Where does power lie? This is the question that ties the UK to Athens

Steve Richards
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project