How the Tories Will Win the UK Election

If the young don't vote and everyone freaks out at the thought of Labour crashing the economy, the Tories might yet sneak a victory.

by Tim Wigmore
Apr 16 2015, 5:55pm

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Related: How Labour Will Win the Election.

It is 23 years since the Conservatives last won a majority: an age before the existence of the Premier League, Oasis's first album, and Friends. With just 20 days to go, time is running out for the Tories to relive one of their greatest election hits: the underdog triumph of 1992.

The great Tory hope is that politics will see an early-90s comeback in 2015. Folklore has it that it was "The Sun Wot Won It" for the Conservative Party in 1992. But really the Tories won because voters still thought that Labour would piss their money up the wall quicker than a footballer on a Vegas retreat.

While for many the Conservative Party is about as toxic as Katie Hopkins—18 million voters, some 40 percent of the electorate, say they would never vote for it—the fear of an Ed Miliband-led coalition government could yet mean that, as in 1992, pollsters might have underestimated one thing: closet Conservatives. "Yeah, that David Cameron is a right pillock," they will say without conviction to a pollster, before sneaking off to vote for him, afraid of what Labour will do to the price their house. Unspoken support for the Tories might see them through.

Of course, a Conservative victory would be remarkable. The failure to pass reform of electoral boundaries three years ago—which would have benefited the Tories by redrawing boundaries in a way that wasn't so generous to Labour—remains raw today. The upshot is that the Tories need a lead of around 5 percent to be the largest party in Parliament, and probably even more to win a majority. Broadly, both the rise of UKIP and the collapse in support of the Lib Dems have benefited Labour at the expense of the Conservatives.

For more on the '15 Election, watch our doc ''Talking Politics with Drunk Yuppies at the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race":

But despite all these obstacles, the Tories are just about on course to be the largest party in Westminster. This is a reflection not merely of Labour weakness, but also the credit the public gives the Tories for what they believe to be the sound state of the economy. Of course, judged by his own targets, George Osborne has been a catastrophe as Chancellor. He has not only spectacularly failed to eliminate the budget deficit, but also actually reduced it by less than the Alistair Darling Plan he denounced as a "reckless gamble."

It doesn't matter. The Tory plan was always to go into the general election being able to show off an impressive record of growth. They can now boast that the economy is the fastest growing in Europe—not over the lifetime of the Parliament, but, crucially, over the last year. Voters will be inundated with messages about how only the Tories can keep Britain on the "road to recovery" as one Conservative Poster put it—even if, that road is being used to ferry night busses full of miserable workers to their poverty-wage jobs.

Relentlessly emphasizing their economic record—and framing the election choice as Tory competence vs. Labour chaos—might be about as exciting as finding out who's going to sit in for Dianne Abbot on This Week next time she's off, but it presents the Tories with their best hope of winning a majority. The good news is the electorate already views the economy as the most important election issue. The Conservatives' best chance is keeping it that way by turning every conversation back to the economy. Your granny's hip operation, little Jimmy's education: It's all about scrabbling for pennies.

The sort of image the Tories don't want to be projected. Photo by Chris Bethell.

The party also needs to address another key weakness—a net 85 percent of the electorate say that it is close to "the rich." Labour will try to caricature the Tory leadership as a Bullingdon Club reunion at every turn. So the Conservatives must remorselessly repeat Cameron's message at the Tory manifesto launch that "We are the party of working people." Certain pledges—like keeping minimum wage workers out of tax, doubling free childcare, and extending "right to buy" home ownership—have the potential to appeal beyond the kind of people who gave up their day to pay their respects at Margaret Thatcher's funeral. But who the messengers are is important: More use should be made of MPs like Patrick McLoughlin, Sajid Javid, and Robert Halfon—Conservatives who don't look like the vampiric baronets who appear in newspaper caricatures.

The Tories are very lucky in that their main opponents are so useless. "If we can't defeat this shower of an opposition we don't deserve to be in politics," the PM declared last year. More than anything, he was talking about the identity of the Leader of the Opposition. Reminding voters that the only alternative to David Cameron in Number 10 is Ed Miliband should make Cameron's advantage in leadership ratings matter come the May 7. Hammering Ed Miliband for his uneasiness and raising alarm at the specter of a dweeb who you would bully in school representing the UK against Vladimir Putin cannot be done enough.

Labour is under attack from all sides. Many of those who plumped for Gordon Brown are decidedly hostile to Ed Miliband, having switched to the Greens, the SNP, or even UKIP. Miliband is under assault from a coterie of "none of the above" parties in a way that Brown never was. This week's challengers' debate—which Miliband surprised Tories by agreeing to—allows the leaders of Plaid Cymru, the SNP, and the Greens anther chance to gang up on Miliband and accuse him of being a sellout. Extra exposure for Plaid and the Greens (at least if Natalie Bennett improves her performance) could split the left-wing vote decisively in a number of seats—that's why Cameron was so desperate for the Greens to appear in the main TV debate. On Thursday night, when the final election debate airs, the Tories will be cracking open the beers and watching with smug grins, expecting socialist OAPs and lefty students across the country to ditch Labour for a more radical party.

Much of the Conservatives' fate will be determined by how they fare against the Lib Dems. The Tories were second in 37 of the 57 seats won by the Lib Dems in 2010. There is good reason to think they can gain at least half of those. As David Cameron said when outlining a plan to "destroy" the Lib Dems, the Conservatives need to scare Lib Dem voters with the prospect of a Miliband-led government—and present a vote for the Tories as the only sure way to stop this.

But even while taking Lib Dem seats, the Tories need the Lib Dem vote to increase in Tory-Labour fights to deprive Labour of left-leaning voters. Accentuating divisions in the coalition to increase the Lib Dems' appeal to the left and hoping for a Clegg debate bounce in the challengers' debate is the Tories' best hope. The Conservatives will also hope that Natalie Bennett avoid any further media car-crashes to further split the vote. Even with the Green surge having ceased, the party is on course to win 5 percent of the vote—4 percent more than in 2010. That's great for the Tories—each Green vote is a Guardian subscriber who's not buying what Ed Miliband's selling.

Photo by Nick Pomeroy

UKIP remains a fundamental problem for the Conservatives. The much-promised UKIP collapse has yet to materialize, though support for the party has wilted slightly this year. The Conservatives will hope that the framing of the election as a Cameron-Miliband dogfight—and Cameron's plea for UKIP supporters to "come home"—entices significant numbers of disaffected Tories back. UKIP will do well in safe seats—the party could come second place in 100 seats—but the Tories need to focus on winning back UKIP voters in Tory-Labour scraps. Emphasizing the promise of an EU referendum will only help so much—really, the Tories need to show they get the everyday problems ordinary Brits face. They could also stoke fear about a Labour-SNP coalition, playing on UKIP voters' anger that the English get a raw deal, which they've been doing a lot of.

In government, the Tories have been giving pensioners bells and whistles while imposing austerity on the young. Crude electioneering underpins this strategy: the old are far more likely to vote than the young, and an aging population means the granny vote will have even more clout than in 2010. Cultivating fear among OAPs about what the two Eds would do to their pensions might be crude, but it could be very effective. Get ready for your Grandma to raise hell about Miliband stealing from her as if he was a retirement home nurse as she cheers Cameron to victory.

The bigger the generation gap in voting—over-65s were 32 percent more likely to vote than under-25s in 2010, according to Ipsos-Mori—the better for the Conservatives. Voter registration is a deeply unglamorous topic, but the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration last year could be the biggest boost to the Tory chances of winning a majority this Parliament. There are fears that swathes of ethnic minorities, those without steady accommodation, and young people—all unlikely to vote Tory—will not be able to vote.

The specter of thousands of people being turned away at the ballot box on the 7th of May because, unknowingly, they are not registered to vote, looms as an uncomfortable possibility. Combine that with pensioners loyally voting blue and the electorate recoiling at the thought of Ed Miliband in Number 10, and it could yet ensure a second term for David Cameron—only this time without any need for a coalition partner.

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