Paddy Gower at TV3 reveals Lord Ashcroft, billionaire Tory donor and International Democratic Union treasurer, has come to talk to Key again as he did before the last election. Dave couldn’t come so Lord Ashcroft did. Just discussed politics generally, said Key. Politics yes, generally no.
Ashcroft has bought the majority ownership in the Tory blog ConservativeHome, where he is a frequent commentator. He has been very critical of the Conservatives’ failure to win a majority government in the last British election, and has commissioned extensive polling to try to work out why. His views on negative campaigns are interesting and worth reflecting on.
In this recent blog post he discusses how the Conservatives need to expand their voter base in order to win a majority. The key points are here, but the whole post is worth reading.
The biggest Tory weakness was the lack of a perception in the Labour targets that the party is “on the side of ordinary people”. Just 27% thought this of the Conservatives, compared to 46% who thought it true of Labour.
Both nationally and on the battleground, voters named the three most important issues facing Britain as the economy and jobs, the NHS, and controlling immigration, with the deficit and the debt slightly further behind. There is an important lesson here. Though the government argues, quite rightly, that getting the deficit under control is a prerequisite for sustainable economic recovery, voters often struggle to see the connection. It seems to many that we are pursuing deficit reduction at the expense of growth and job creation (and other things they think are important) rather than as a means to it.
In both Labour and Lib Dem targets, the Conservatives had a huge lead (27 and 39 points respectively) on having the best approach to the deficit and the debt. But on the economy and jobs, the Conservatives were only 9 points ahead of Labour in Lib Dem targets and 7 points behind in Labour targets. The Tories also led on immigration, welfare, defence, Europe, and (by less than we are used to) crime. Labour had opened up a 29-point lead in their own target seats on the NHS – particularly disappointing given that we had come within striking distance on the issue in the run-up to the general election. In Lib Dem targets the Conservatives were 16 points behind on the NHS, but were 2 points ahead on education – despite a 15-point deficit on education in Labour targets.
In New Zealand National’s attempts to widen their voter base via the Maori Party looked good for a while, much less so now. Also Act’s descent from the bizarre to the loony means that any attempt to resurrect them via a Key dog-whistle to Remuera voters to hold their noses and vote for Banks risks the return of the extremist right-wing tag Key has been so desperate to disguise.
Ashcroft’s interests are now devoted to polling and blog communication. Our media ritually ask if he donates to the National Party. He did that in the past to Howard, giving him $1m in the 2004 Australian election. I think it is far more likely that any contribution he makes here would be to a polling company. He could be the client and pass on the results to the Nats. It would all be quite legal. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if Crosby-Textor or Farrar’s Curia polling company were beneficiaries of his interest in our politics. I think that is where the media should direct their questions here; it would parallel what he is doing in Britain.
Finally Ashcroft promised in the above post to return to the issue of widening the Conservatives’ voter base. He hasn’t published it yet, but I’ll bet it was part of the conversation with Key. Ashcroft is very interested in our election, and he does not intend that our fate should be left entirely in our own hands. Having seen Cameron miss a majority, he’ll want to help Key to one here.