12 May 2015

Cameron reaches out to the shy – or self-loathing – Tories

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron's holds his first cabinet meeting after winning the general election at 10 Downing Street, in Westminster, London

I’m not sure whether blue-collar workers do a lot of desk banging when they welcome people into the room, but that’s how Tory ministers decided to welcome David Cameron into the Cabinet room for his mission statement to serve working people.

Mr Cameron said the Tories would become “the real party of working people.” He said, slightly dismissively, that some commentators called it “blue-collar Conservatism” – he might be interested to know some of those “commentators” work at the same address as him and brief the term out.

This was David Cameron trying to seize the advantage and make a land grab on Tory voters who were reluctant, “shy” or perhaps even profoundly uncomfortable with their voting choice.

Talking to pundits, failed and successful candidates and, yes, pollsters over the last few days, I come away with the strong impression that the factor that got the Tory vote up to majority status included (a component, not the whole answer) a sudden and largely undetected shift of people who’d voted Labour in 2010 (and probably in every previous election they’d been allowed to vote in).

These voters you might classify as not “shy” but “self-loathing” Tories. Some will be so ill at ease with their decision that they may never tell their children.

I’m not sure how much they were part of some marginal constituency strategies but the Tory hired guns, Lynton Crosby and Jim Messina, have always thought them potential supporters.

When he first took over the Tory campaign, Lynton Crosby said the Tories in 2010 had managed to let vast potential support slip between their fingers. With a proper campaign in 2010, Mr Crosby told Tory chiefs, they might have got to the high 300s in MPs.

The other person at the heart of the Tory  machine who thought there was more potential support out there than most would’ve thought was Jim Messina, the former Obama aide who masterminded the data analytics that crunched the Tories to victory.

Mr Messina, arguably a better ex-Obama hire than David Axelrod in the circumstances, predicted 319 Tory MPs on the eve of the election.

His approach, now even more retailable than ever, is not to look too hard at headline voting intention but instead at analysis of what drives voters.

In the Obama 2012 campaign, Mr Messina claimed a 97 per cent successful prediction rate, telling you who will be in your party’s support column by asking a whole load of questions that don’t include party preference.

Today’s Cabinet address from the PM is about trying to hold on to this electoral windfall. The speed and unpredictability with which many voters ran to one end of the boat at short notice and undetected by many polls highlights the trickiness of that task.

(Since I posted this an interesting post-election interview with Jim Messina has been published here. And you can read some more about Mr Messina’s approach here.)

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