Michael Ashcroft’s power in the Tory party comes from two things: the fact that he was giving them money back when no one else would; and the fact that, in the aftermath of their 2005 defeat, he commissioned a study of the reasons for it. He wrote up the analysis and published it under the title Smell the Coffee. This report was to become, in effect, the intellectual underpinning of the party’s turn to the Cameronistas.
Smell the Glove, sorry, Smell the Coffee, comes to a memorably blunt conclusion: ‘The problem was not that millions of people in Britain thought the Conservative Party wasn’t like them and didn’t understand them; the problem was that they were right.’ Even a non-Tory would agree with that.
That’s where the Cameron project began. Its entire basis is to make the Tories seem like a party which resembles and understands modern Britain. So what’s going on? Yesterday came the news that petrol prices had hit their highest level ever, £1.20 a litre. Since Brown was pinning a significant amount of his hopes for the recovery on lower petrol prices, this should be a disaster for Labour. (‘The one bright spot on the horizon in what is a very difficult picture around the world is that oil prices are coming down,’ he told GMTV 18 months ago. ‘That’s what has caused the hit on people’s standard of living more than anything else.’) Also, there is usually a direct negative correlation between petrol prices and the government’s popularity – prices go up, the polls go down.
So this adds up as follows:
- 82 per cent of the British people agree with the proposition that ‘it’s time for a change’
- Gordon Brown is personally unpopular, not least because we didn’t elect him in the first place
- the government took us into the most unpopular military adventure since Suez
- the government presided over the sharpest and longest economic contraction since the Great Depression
- the incumbent chancellor has said that the coming cuts will be ‘deeper and tougher’ than those administered by Mrs Thatcher
- petrol prices are at an all-time high
- and here please feel free to add whatever are your own top reasons for being furious with Labour. You may write on both sides of the paper.
The only obvious way in which the circumstances could more favour the Tories would be if several members of the Cabinet were arrested for running a paedophile ring. Since that is unlikely to happen, the Tories simply won’t ever get better electoral weather than this. This election shouldn’t be anywhere near close. And yet the most recent polls have the Tories heading for either a hung Parliament or a tiny majority. This must, surely, mean that the diagnosis Ashcroft gave in 2005 is still true? There’s a huge residual dislike and distrust of the Tories. That fundamental part of the rebranding, repackaging, Cameronising project has failed.