Sunday, 10 August 2008

De-Constructing the "Cameron Coalition"

With another opinion poll showing a massive lead for the Conservatives, there's little doubt that, aided and abetted by a woeful performance from Gordon Brown and a severe economic downturn, David Cameron has achieved the second stage of what is genuinely regarded as the path from Opposition to No.10 Downing Street.

Having won the Conservative leadership in the autumn of 2005, it has taken Cameron less than three years from mastering his Party to mastering the country in terms of constructing a large and seemingly durable coalition of the electorate that, if the current figures are maintained, will sweep the Conservatives back to power after more than a decade in Opposition with a landslide majority of over 100 seats.

Yet how has David Cameron built this new coalition and of what does it consist ? The latter question is relevant in terms of the coalition's durability. Both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair built large voter coalitions, taking many supporters from their principal opponents yet both coalitions fragmented and in time disintegrated. Cameron's coalition will go the same way but how and above all, when ?

The Cameron Coalition can be explained in terms of age, gender, region and a myriad of other socio-economic factors but, from my own experience, it can be best summed up as a series of emotional responses. Let's consider these:

Anger: There are a lot of angry people out there who feel personally betrayed by New Labour. Many of these people are, I think, Conservatives who fell for Tony Blair in the mid-90s and stayed with him through the 1997 and 2001 elections. They began to have "doubts" as a result of the Iraq War and some switched briefly to the Liberal Democrats. However, the accession and experience of Gordon Brown and what is perceived to be the bungling and incompetence and spin-driven environment of New Labour Government post-Blair has compounded this sense of betrayal and they have turned their backs firmly on Labour.

Fear: There are a lot of frightened people out there who see their personal and family economic prospects falling apart and blame Gordon Brown. This group were strong supporters of Tony Blair and backed him through the Iraq War and as a determined fighter against Islamic terror. However, the credit crunch and the oil shock has unnerved them badly. They worry about the costs of food and fuel and are anxious about their mortgages, their savings and the value of their homes. They see Gordon Brown as entirely helpless and now regard David Cameron as their potential salvation because, deep down, they think the Conservatives are the best party to be in power when times are difficult.

Hope: There are a lot of people out there who have vested a lot of hope in David Cameron. They like him and they like what he has said and not said and they like what he has done to the Conservative brand. This group are the die-hard Conservatives but many abstained in 1997 and 2001 disgusted at the antics of the Major Government and the seeming ineffectiveness of the Conservatives in Opposition. Now they feel they have a leader again and while some may privately feel he's no Margaret Thatcher, the fact is he looks and sounds like a winner. They have returned to the Conservatives and feel their time has come.

Faith: Not perhaps an emotional response but I needed something to differentiate the traditional Conservatives from the "new Tories". There's little doubt that David Cameron has been able to draw to the Conservative flag a number of ex-Labour and ex-Liberal Democrat supporters and activists. Cameron's claim that he is a "liberal conservative" resonated strongly within the Liberal Democrats in 2005-6 and was a factor in the removal of Charles Kennedy and the Party's re-assertion of more traditional liberal values under Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg. The "love-bombing" of Liberal Democrat supporters has had an effect - no question. For many, it is now "acceptable" to vote Conservative as Cameron "sounds" like a reasonable, fair-minded man without the mean-spiritedness of a Michael Howard for example.

There are other factors at work but those are the main elements within the Cameron Coalition but how will this mixed and myriad grouping fare once the Conservatives are in office ? IF everything goes well and the economy improves, the coalition may well remain solid for a decade or more.

However, my view has long been that the 2010s will be a bumpy ride for any Government. As we are seeing now, Russia is re-asserting itself, the oil price is extraordinarily sensitive to world events and, recession notwithstanding, the economic development of China and India combined with global climate change will present all Governments with a host of challenges.

I suspect that will be problems, mistakes and unforeseeable issues for the Cameron Government, The "angry" may well turn their anger on Cameron, the "frightened" will not see Cameron as their salvation, the "hopeful" will lose hope and the "faithful" will be betrayed. I think it not without significance that the Conservatives and Scottish Nationalists have been growing closer since 2005. I just wonder, if, after 2015, David Cameron may well need to rely on SNP votes to continue pushing legislation through Westminster.

That's a long way off...

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