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James Frayne: The new Prime Minister won’t triumph on Leave votes alone. Here’s how he can win some Remain supporters over.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

It’s not impossible that the Conservatives will need to fight both a general election and a referendum in the next year. It was therefore vital that the Party picked a candidate with a record of successful campaigning – and who believes in the Brexit cause. Jeremy Hunt ran a decent campaign and deserves a serious job, but Party members have chosen the right candidate.

While I’ve been making the case for Boris Johnson’s appointment on these pages for two years, his arrival in Number Ten complicates the Conservatives’ electoral strategy – and the Party must be considering how best to adapt it. They should be exploring full, Clinton-style triangulation.

I stress “explore” because the truth is, we don’t have a clue about where public opinion is at the moment. It would be an understatement to say the polls are a mess. We only know a few things: that the public remains completely divided on Brexit; that the broad Conservative base (activists plus regular voters) has fractured since the Government missed its own self-imposed Brexit deadlines; that there is a risk this broad base will remain fractured if the Government doesn’t deliver Brexit “on time” (although this timetable is probably more flexible than people have said), and that, until recently, the Party has been polling strongly amongst working class and lower middle class Leave voters in the Midlands and North – more so than amongst Remain voters in large cities and across the South.

Everything else is clouded in doubt. As Johnson arrives with his Eurosceptic reputation, we don’t know, for example, if the Southern and urban Remainers who have reluctantly stuck with the Conservatives will now peel off in great numbers to the Lib Dems; we don’t know if Johnson’s record will be enough to keep Midlands and Northern working class and lower middle class Leavers onside, or whether they will be watching the antics of Hammond, Gauke etc and now proclaim “they’re all the same”; we don’t know if there are particular, non-Brexit policies that will appeal to these Remainers or Leavers, and we don’t know if middle class Labour voters are getting sick of the failure of Labour to deal with anti-semitism within the Party ranks. We don’t know any of this and it is hard to say when we will. Not, presumably, until Christmas when Boris Johnson has been Prime Minister for a while (itself an assumption).

But while there is great uncertainty, the Conservatives cannot just sit patiently on the sidelines and watch the action unfold before coming to a decision on their broad governing and campaigning strategy. They have to deliver Brexit  – but they also have to prepare and execute a programme that is going to be good for the country and, yes, let’s be realistic, for their own electoral prospects.

So what should they do? With the polls so messed up, all anyone can do at this point is to sketch out a governing and campaigning hypothesis on the basis of careful thought – and put it to the test.

For five years at least,  I have been advocating a strategy that focuses hard on working class and lower middle class voters in provincial England. I emphatically would not junk this approach; these voters will likely form the basis of the Conservatives broad base for the foreseeable future.

However, for positive and negative reasons, under Boris Johnson, this needs adapting. Positively speaking, these working class and lower middle class voters are, assuming that the Conservatives deliver Brexit (or are seen to die trying), temperamentally more positive towards Johnson than Theresa May.

And not just on Brexit; Johnson instinctively understands the importance of the NHS and schools, he understands public concerns about rising crime, he is unembarrassed about being English or about English history (something that has not been sufficiently explored) and he doesn’t obsess about political correctness. These voters aren’t “locked down” – far from it – but Johnson starts in a good place with them. More needs to be done to keep this voters onside, and I will be setting out some ideas on how in the coming weeks.

Negatively speaking, there’s no denying that Johnson starts in a terrible place with Remain voters full stop – and particularly those from urban, liberal-minded, middle class backgrounds. These are the people that associate – wrongly, but there we are – the Brexit cause with racism and intolerance. He is in a more difficult place than May with these voters, and it would be a disaster for the Party if vast numbers of them peeled away. Johnson needs a high-impact, high-visibility, immediate strategy for these voters – showing that he is the same person that ran London in an inclusive, centrist way.

Which brings us back to Clinton’s triangulating strategy of the mid-1990s. Back in those days, Clinton created a campaigning and governing strategy designed to appeal both to partisan Democrats and to floating voters that leaned Republican. Early Blair did the same, and this is what Johnson’s team should be considering. The Conservatives should deliver Brexit whatever happens, develop a longer-term strategy to turn the Midlands and the North blue, but also launch an assault for liberal-minded Remainers.

What might this entail? The Government is going to have to look again at increasing NHS spending – given the side of that bus, further NHS spending (with reform) is going to be hard to walk away from. It should look to develop a suite of environmental policies that incentivise good behaviour and that wrestle the issue away from the very hard left. The Government should also launch, along the lines of the GREAT campaign, a global PR campaign to encourage the best qualified workers to move to a modern, tolerant, post-Brexit Britain. And the Government should look at making it easier for new parents, at a time when they’re financially stretched, to secure loans for childcare. There will be many other alternatives, but you get the point.

The Conservatives must continue their transition towards becoming the provincial workers party, but the creative energy in the short-term should be directed South.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

James Frayne: What polling does and doesn’t tell us about voters and the environment

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Conservative Party politicians are prone to temporary policy cause obsessions. Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen them obsess briefly about, amongst other issues: free schools, the gender pay gap, social media, childcare, foreign aid and housing. (To list them like this is not to dismiss their relevance).

The enthusiasm which they responded to Greta Thunberg’s visit to the UK, their timidity in the face of Extinction Rebellion’s direct action, and their unwillingness, as Natascha Engel described in her resignation as Shale Commissioner, to seriously promote Shale Gas extraction in England, strongly suggests they’re about to become obsessed with policy development on climate change. If so, what does this mean for the Party electorally? What do the polls say about the environment as an issue?

Let’s look at how seriously people take the issue overall.

YouGov’s most recent headline tracker of the public’s top issues puts the environment reasonably low down the list, behind leaving the EU, crime, health, the economy and immigration, but above housing, education, welfare and defence. While it’s still something of a niche issue overall, many will be surprised that it is even this high and, crucially, the issue has risen slowly but consistently over the last couple of years.

A poll for “Stop Climate Chaos” in Scotland also suggested, in a not-perfect exercise, that many people have become more concerned about climate change in recent times. So it’s an issue that’s on the up. (Incidentally, only a tiny number of people had heard, in early March, about “The Green New Deal”, inspired by US environmental activists. Also, incidentally, British adults put “pollution, the environment and climate change” much lower down their list of priorities than adults in other European countries).

But, predictably, the headline numbers mask huge differences of opinion based on politics, class and age. Hanbury Strategy’s recent poll for Onward showed that 18-24 year olds put the environment third in their list of policy priorities, behind Britain leaving the EU and health; on the other hand, over 65s put the environment near the bottom of their list, just above transport and defence. The poll also showed that Conservative voters were much less likely to name the environment as a major issue.

In a separate question in the same report, voters were asked if they would prefer that society or Government focused either on economic growth or prioritising the environment. This question forces too stark a choice in people’s minds, but the gaps between groups’ answers are interesting. Overall, voters narrowly said, by 51 per cent to 49 per cent, economic growth. However, 18-24 year olds chose the environment by 62 per cent to 38 per cent, while over 65s chose the economy by 64 per cent to 36 per cent.

Conservatives chose the economy by a significant margin, while Labour voters chose the environment by a similarly clear margin. (Another incidental finding, which builds this age point out further: a YouGov poll showed that a fifth of the population believe “the threat of climate change is over-exaggerated”. While nine per cent of 18-24 year olds agree with this statement, 32 pe cent of over 55’s agree).

That such differences between ages exist will not come as a surprise to anyone, but we should be wary, on the existing evidence, of either claiming that young people are obsessed about the environment, or that older people are dismissive of it – and careful about recommending very clear actions for campaign strategy.

After all, we haven’t yet seen young people’s commitment to tackling climate change through regulation tested by an economic downturn. After the financial crisis, Ipsos-Mori’s tracker showed that public interest in the environment tailed away significantly (although to be fair, I can’t find a breakdown of younger voters’ attitudes), in much the same way we’re seeing the reputation of “big business” rebound in the aftermath of the EU referendum as voters’ minds are focused on the prospect of large employers leaving Britain. Would things change in the same way if jobs were threatened now? It’s hard to say – but some Conservatives are making a huge leap of faith that young voters have fully embraced green activism.

As for older voters, the evidence suggests that older voters might draw a distinction between different types of environmental issues – taking climate change less seriously than what you might call “the local physical environment”. For example, almost all over 65s say they would support “a law to significantly reduce plastic waste and pollution within 25 years” – a higher figure than 18-24 year olds. And a similarly high number of older people say they view tackling litter as more of a priority than they used to.

My strong impression is also that older voters are also more likely to volunteer that they are concerned about issues surrounding food safety and animal welfare and protecting areas of natural beauty – although this is an impression borne of many years moderating focus groups rather than on any hard data. In a sense, this is the environmentalism that Michael Gove has been pushing from Defra.

What does all this mean? Honestly, I don’t think there’s even nearly enough research data out there to make serious conclusions as to how the electorate will react to the Conservatives embracing the green agenda more seriously. Far more needs to be done. Most will likely support Gove’s Defra reforms. While it is certainly reasonable to suggest that younger voters care more about climate change, there are clearly dangers in jumping into this debate by accepting the terms set out by green activists – who essentially argue that we can only protect the environment by slowing growth and insisting on massive personal austerity. Such a move will irritate the bulk of electorate and likely a massive chunk of younger voters too.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Onward, Hancock – and the delusion of leadership candidates retreating to their comfort zone

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Reading Matt Hancock’s piece in the Sunday Times a couple of weekends ago previewing Onward’s interesting new publication, Generation Why, and watching a clip of his speech at the publication’s launch, reminded me why I gave up talking to people in politics about football nearly 20 years ago.

A weird link? Let me explain. There comes a time when, despite theoretically sharing an interest in the same subject, you have so little actual shared experience of that subject that it becomes impossible to have any sort of meaningful conversation about it. You might as well be talking to each other in a foreign language.

As a youth of 16 or 17, playing at the bottom of the non-league pyramid, my favourite place to play was Heanor Town. For those that don’t know the East Midlands, Heanor is a small town in the North of Derbyshire. The football pitch was located at the top of the slope of the cricket pitch. While badly sloped, the pitch was impeccably cut whatever the weather (usually cold or freezing), the floodlights worked, and the dressing rooms had the intense smell of deep heat. Most importantly, the locals absolutely loved football and sport in general. Heanor was a football town.

When you talked to the locals about football, they didn’t just talk about Man Utd or Derby or Forest; of course, they did talk about them, but they’d be as happy talking about the last game against Kimberley Town, or Jeff Astle’s last song on Fantasy Football, or how Notts County fans moaned all the time. In short, when talking about football there was a shared understanding that you were talking about the game as a whole. It was expected that everyone knew practically everything there was to know about the game since they were a child – about players, fans, grounds, songs, old kits and all the rest.

When I arrived in London politics, full as it was with privately educated, mostly Southern staff that hadn’t played much, that shared understanding was totally absent. While many professed a love of the game, their entire way of speaking about it was alien. They’d talk almost entirely about the top of the game over the last few years since they became interested or – increasingly and weirdly – about football statistics. Nobody knew what the Anglo-Italian Cup was, let alone the FA Vase. And because nobody had really played at school, nobody knew what it was like to get hit on the thigh with a Mitre Multiplex in January. The Fast Show’s “I love football” sketch was no longer an amusing parody, but reality. Talking about football was a bizarre and depressing experience. So I stopped.

Which takes me back to Hancock’s article and speech. In giving advice to the Conservatives in appealing to the young, he wrote: “First, we need to get our tone right. Sometimes Conservatives can sound, as Ruth Davidson succinctly put it, a bit ‘dour’. Of course, it’s our job to be the pragmatists, but nobody wants to hang out with the person always pointing out the problems, rather than the one hopeful about the solutions…” At the event, he said:  “As well as delivering better economic prospects for people, we’ve got to sound like we actually like this country. We’ve got to patriots for the Britain of now, not the Britain of 1940. And enough about being just comfortable with modern Britain, we need to champions of modern Britain.”

Just as I found it increasingly difficult to relate to most of the privately-educated, metropolitan Conservatives talking about football, hearing this, I found myself similarly thinking that I have literally nothing in common with the same sorts of people’s views on politics. It’s as if we’ve grown up in entirely different worlds. Honestly, how can anyone think that the British people are collectively optimistic, happy-go-lucky, and modernity-obsessed? How can anyone seriously think that this is the best way to engage with people? How can they imagine themselves walking into the average pub, shopping centre or call centre canteen and connecting with ordinary people with such a case? 

Ordinary people don’t want to hear about 1940 or about life before large-scale immigration; most are happy with the people they live amongst. But they also emphatically don’t want to hear politicians droning on about how great the future is going to be and how technology and 3D printing is going to change everything for the better. It’s just not how they think about the world and not how they talk about it.

Look at what most working class and lower middle class people really think about things – those that make up the bulk of electorate. They think: that the economy is, at best fine, but that they see little of the benefits of growth; that long-term careers are a relic of the past; that good pensions have gone and that a long retirement is just a dream; that home ownership is increasingly unattainable; that the cost of living is too high; that their town centres are boring; that the NHS is over-burdened and under-funded and might fail them when the time comes; that crime is rising and police numbers are falling; that their savings will get raided to pay for social care; that childcare is ruinously expensive; and they think that politicians are out of touch thieves. While this is more prevalent amongst the old in provincial England, it’s actually common everywhere.

Why get so worked up over one little speech and an article? Because it’s clear that the Conservative Party is preparing to return to its recent comfort zone – using claims of a broad appeal to the young, which would be reasonable, to justify an appeal to the tiny number of successful, highly affluent, urban voters who are basically like those at the top of the Party. It’s dressed up as daring and confrontational, but is in fact just about following a path of least-resistance in the Party, while making those that make the case feel good about themselves. If Hancock is so sure this plays well, Heanor are home to Gedling Miners Welfare on Saturday. I’m sure they’d love to hear from him.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com