In secret, how many will vote for the Tories?

The embarrassment is now so strong that some, even to a pollster, will not admit it

Share

"Well," the man at the other end of the table said. "I'm going to vote for the Conservatives next time. I don't care what anyone thinks. I'm just going to vote for them."

"Well," the man at the other end of the table said. "I'm going to vote for the Conservatives next time. I don't care what anyone thinks. I'm just going to vote for them."

It was a Saturday night, a party among late thirty-somethings in liberal South London. There was a brief lull in the conversation and then, like a lot of deaf old colonels, everyone started saying: "What did he say? Did he say what I thought he said?"

"Are you serious?" someone said. "Yes, totally," he said. "I'm fed up with this lot. I'm voting for the other lot." "But you can't vote for them," a woman said, incredulously. "Why not?" he said. "Look at it like this. They're both exactly the same on immigration, as bad as each other, so there's no difference.

"But I don't believe the Tories would carry out an assault on free speech, like that stupid religious hatred thing. They wouldn't have gone to war for one reason and then told us that they'd really done it for another reason. And they wouldn't in a million years just get rid of habeas corpus like these crooks."

"But come on, they're racists," someone said. "No they're not," he said. "I don't believe that." "Of course they're racists, they're Tories," the woman said, getting an unintended laugh. "And homophobes", she went on. "Oh yes?" he said. "And there aren't any homophobes in the Glasgow Labour Party?" "Yes," I said. "There was that man, wasn't there..." "...killed himself," someone added. "Why not the Liberal Democrats?" "I'm not going to vote for someone," he said, "who I wouldn't trust to form a government." "All the same, though..."

Well, the discussion more or less petered out, with a faint feeling of bad taste. Around here, people were thinking, we don't vote for the Conservatives, because we're not that sort of people. And if someone does, then he ought to keep pretty quiet about it; particularly now that none of us can think of anything good to say about the Labour Party.

All those nice people who voted for Mr Blair know that he's let them down badly. The only thing which keeps them remotely within the fold is that they don't know anyone of their sort, they believe, who seriously announces an intention to vote for the Tories.

It's a huge problem for the Conservative Party. The legacy of the Thatcher revolution has simply been accepted; everyone silently accepts, say, that the state couldn't go on running airline companies and car plants, while often sternly maintaining that she was "a disaster for the country".

It is a kind of irrational taboo. Across much of the country, in educated company, it seems to be quite an embarrassing declaration to say that you are thinking of voting for the Conservatives. That has probably been the case now since John Smith became the leader of the Labour Party after the 1992 election. Although, of course, that is not true everywhere, it is certainly the case among the chattering classes and it is an attitude which seems to be spreading far beyond metropolitan dinner parties.

By now, it is almost impossible for anyone to say that they are going to vote Conservative without a slight effort; a consciousness that they are presenting a bold kind of challenge. To say in public that Michael Howard gets your vote is to have prepared a series of defiant responses to follow it up, about habeas corpus, Hazel Blears and the Glasgow tendency. Nobody says: "I don't know, I just sort of like them." It clearly takes a definite effort of will.

On the other hand, if you say: "Oh, I suppose it had better be Labour," everyone will sympathetically groan. Few people will say: "How can you bring yourself to vote for that lot?" The danger for the Conservatives, as it has been for some time, is that Labour has become a sort of default position, the chicken-and-chips of the electoral system. We don't like it that much; but at least our friends aren't going to laugh at us.

There might be some slight hope for the Tories in all of this. Even though opinion polls recently have shown them closing on Labour, some to within four or five percentage points, they are still consistently behind.

On the other hand, I strongly suspect that the embarrassment of declaring yourself a prospective Conservative voter is now so strong that there might be those who, even to an unknown pollster, will not admit the fact. Not many of those people, however, will carry their embarrassment into the secrecy of the polling booth. It seems quite possible, given the reaction I saw on Saturday night, that some people will go on assuring friends, families, spouses - and even the man from Mori - that Tony gets their unwilling vote, and in the end, in the privacy of the polling booth, will slyly put down a big blue tick.

Of course, that would not be a very firm mandate on which to form a government - and they are not likely to succeed this time. But as time goes on, the successful Labour tactic of demonising the Tories is going to lose its force, just as the old Tory mantras about the 1978-9 Winter of Discontent eventually did. At the moment, the government is more or less relying on the embarrassment factor; and that is not a very firm mandate, either.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
‘Would Gary Lineker depart if his pay were halved, and would it affect the quality of MoTD?’  

BBC Me – no Archers, and no Fiona Bruce

DJ Taylor
Feeling the heat: David Cameron last week in Lanzarote  

The parable of the PM and the jellyfish

Joan Smith
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit