Labour’s poll lead will narrow as the election draws nearer. My colleagues should take the point and hold their nerve.


As published by Conservative Home

On New Year’s Day, I wrote to all my Conservative colleagues in the Commons. I did so as I could see the relentless infighting would only lead to one thing – oblivion at the ballot box.

I argued that if we entered the New Year as a united party, a Conservative victory at the next election could be within our grasp.

However, I fear that some of my, sometimes self-serving, colleagues have nonetheless carried a sense of fatalism into 2024.

The much-publicised Daily Telegraph analysis, published over a week ago, predicting a 1997-style general election wipeout was more of a polemic than a piece of scientific analysis. The YouGov MRP model, commissioned by the Conservative Britain Alliance and analysed in the paper by Lord Frost, has several flaws.

YouGov themselves made the extremely unusual decision to criticise several aspects of the analysis of their own client. The analysis inflates the polling gap with Labour to 22 per cent. YouGov felt obliged to add the headline vote intention, which demonstrated instead a 13.5 per cent gap between Labour (39.5 per cent) and the Conservatives (26 per cent).

The precise size of the gap is incredibly important. Labour’s lead will certainly narrow as the election draws nearer, and the critical question is whether the gap will be narrow enough to make a victory possible.

Peter Kellner, former Chairman of YouGov, writing in the New European (not my usual paper of choice), has demonstrated precisely this in the table below. In the previous five elections, the size of the shift in the polling gap between election day and six months before has been between six per cent and 12 per cent towards the Conservatives. These changes occurred over six months; we have nearly a year until the election is likely to occur.

Lord Frost suggests that the solution to our position in the polls is to double down on immigration to reach Reform voters. Lord Frost believes that Reform’s vote share is apparently now the difference between Labour securing a majority or not.

YouGov again dismisses this, pointing to their own polling in October, which found only 37 per cent of Reform voters voted Conservative in 2019 and only 31 per cent of Reform voters would be willing to vote Conservative if Reform were not standing in their constituency.

I can add some flesh to this empirical analysis on the question of how powerful a topic immigration is to voters. In 2005 85 per cent of the public thought immigration policy was very important. I was Shadow Home Secretary then, and we had a policy lead of 35 per cent over Labour on immigration. Applying Lord Frost’s logic to this, we should have seen a massive shift. In practice, the impact on the election was a pathetic 0.5 per cent swing.

Why? Because the vast majority of the public are more than single issue voters. Immigration concerns are often balanced against other priorities like the economy, healthcare, education, and housing.

When making a hard judgement on election day, rather than being questioned by an anonymous pollster, the public votes based on what best serves their and their family’s interests.

Fringe factions of the party have taken Lord Frost’s analysis to heart, but as the last two weeks have unambiguously demonstrated, the all too familiar infighting over the Rwanda Bill has not endeared us to the public. Indeed, this political infighting is costing the party far more votes than even the most successful immigration policy could ever gain.

Last week, two of the more prominent rebels wrote to fellow rebel MPs, criticising “the doomed pursuit of unity as an end in itself”. I would ask both individuals to compare that with the doomed pursuit of an ill-thought-out policy that commands just 10 per cent of support in the House of Commons.

The individuals concerned have both been in Parliament for just four years and have achieved victory in only one election campaign. I leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to how much weight to attach to their comments. Unsurprisingly, people in their position who haven’t fought in the electoral cycles summarised in the table above, have little experience or evidence to base their judgements on.

I would ask both rebels and anyone else willing to forsake party unity to heed the warning of Isaac Levido, the man charged with heading our election campaign, who, in response to the Daily Telegraph analysis, pointed out that “divided parties fail” and that this division is “coming from people whose interests are served by the impression the election is a foregone conclusion”.

Levido is right. The experience of the last forty years exactly fits his analysis. What’s more, he should know, after all, he headed our 2019 election campaign, securing our biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 victory, the same victory that won both of those rebels their seats.

If we want our party to avoid facing a “1997-style general election wipeout”, we should look to imitate our 1992 victory, where the Conservative Party fought as a team, where the opponent was the Opposition rather than the party’s leadership. In 1997, the two sides of the Tory Party went into battle with each other – and both lost. History demonstrates where repeating this strategy will lead.

To those who are trying to imply that defeat is inevitable, just remember the numbers, YouGov’s own analysis showed a 13.5 per cent gap in the polls, with 11 months to go to the election. In 1992 we recovered 12 points in six months, more in the year or so proceeding.

Fatalist defeatism is just that, but it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy if we’re not careful.

I note that the Daily Telegraph released further analysis later pointing to a You Gov poll effectively suggesting that a new Conservative leader, championing the core values of whoever the pollster was interviewing, would secure their vote and lead the Conservatives to a resounding victory over a Labour. Never have I seen quite such an uninformative piece of polling. These vague, speculative and ill-defined polling questions are of precisely zero value in reaching intelligent decisions. Indeed, they are written to deliver the answer that the questioner is looking to find.

To any other fantasists suggesting we do indeed need another leadership election, I would ask, just how much more evidence do you need that the public has had enough of the Tory’s waging war against one another?

What the public wants to hear is a debate on the things that matter to them, whether that’s the Government’s plan to act on the Post Office scandal or the strategy to defeat inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, which the Prime Minister is enacting right now. When elements of the Party indulge in self indulgent and selfish behaviour, the first effect is to drive important and useful policies out of the headlines. Which of course has a predictably bad effect on the public’s view of the whole Party.

The UK and every other country in the Western world are faced with huge challenges posed by Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine; this is what we should be focussing on.

It is time for our party to unite around the campaign for a Conservative election victory. Party discipline, not mass rebellions, will see the Rwanda Bill achieve its aims. That should be one of the pillars of the only strategy that will deliver us victory in the coming election.

The party should turn its attention to the upcoming budget, which gives us the opportunity to present a truly Conservative low-tax strategy from the Treasury. It is time for the party to bury its differences and focus on the election ahead or face the “wipeout” some within our party seem keen to witness.