I’m at the ConservativeHome ‘Victory 2015′ conference today, which after Lord Ashcroft’s presentation should perhaps be renamed Annihilation 2015. He started the day with one of his mega expensive polls of marginal seats, a survey of 19,200 suggesting the Tories would lose 93 seats to the Labour Party alone, giving Miliband a total of 367 MPs and a majority of 84. ‘I don’t want to see a Labour majority of four, let alone 84, but I hope this puts the challenge into some sort of perspective,’ Ashcroft said. The perspective being: give up! Go home! Wait for 2020! The noble lord didn’t quite put it like that (update: you can now read his account here) but here are his main points.
As James Forsyth first revealed, the Tories have a 40/40 strategy: to defend 40 seats and take 40 more (20 from Liberal Democrats). It should be a 90/40 strategy if Ashcroft is right. But let’s look at the 40 targets: how’s it going in those seats the Tories need to win from Labour? Here’s Lord Ascroft’s polling:
Not so good. I won’t reprint the charts showing Tory/LibDem marginals: there’s no advantage. And how’s it looking for Labour in the seats they intend to steal from the Tories? Rather better:
When challenged about this later the party chairman, Grant Shapps, said that this was a snapshot of a government midway through power. It’ll get better. But the bookmakers suggest otherwise: Ladbrokes now has a Tory majority at 4/1. And Miliband at 6/5.
Liz Truss, the schools minister, said that polls are more volatile now than at any time in our democratic history — she also said she was ‘one of the 7 per cent‘ of Tories who believe there will be a Cameron majority at the next election. In which case, she should place a bet and quintuple here money. (One of the attendees joked after that Lord Ashcroft should close the day with a seminar on how to emigrate to Belize. At least, I think he was joking)
As I said when it was my turn on the podium , if a week is a long time in politics then two years is an eternity. Ashcroft’s polls and the bookies’ odds are the Ghost of Christmas Future — saying not what will happen, come what may, but what is likely to happen if the Tories stay in the cliff-bound course they are on. What will happen if the political Scrooges do not change their ways. It can change, but it needs new ideas.
And there are plenty of new ideas here at the ConHome conference. It probably has more grassroots members than your average Tory conference. And far more interesting debates. It’s been imaginatively curated, with plenty of hard questions (more about those later). Theresa May has agreed to give the keynote speech. Only Tim Montgomerie could have pulled this off. The Tories will certainly miss him when he’s gone.