The Conservative Party is announcing a rebranding again. In a bid to reach out to a wide range of voters- especially to blue collar workers who might now choose to vote for UKIP- the Tories are rebranding themselves as “The Worker’s Party”.
We’ve seen this rebranding all before of course. As opposition leader, David Cameron sought to transform the image of the Conservatives by distancing the party from Thatcher’s legacy, instead portraying the Tories as moderate, compassionate conservatives with a deep environmental conscience. Remember the phrases “hug a hoodie” and “vote blue, go green”? It can be so easy to forget when as Prime Minister that’s all been replaced. Cameron’s approach to crime is now “tough but intelligent” whilst his eco-friendly image has been long forgotten, instead “get rid of all the green crap” is the most memorable phrase linked to Prime Minister Cameron on this issue.
This moderate, socially liberal, eco-friendly image ultimately failed to win Cameron an overall majority in the last election. Even with an extremely unpopular Labour government and the press on their side, the easy win for the Tories in 2010 never materialised. Crucially this highlighted a huge problem for the party, even in a climate of economic melt down voters remained suspicious of giving the Tories the keys to power.
For the 2015 battle, the hiring of Lynton Crosby may have aimed to boost the electoral standing of the party, yet despite the economy growing again and the success of Tories in convincing the electorate that the global economic crash was entirely Labour’s fault, the Tories’ woes persist. Labour’s lead remains stubborn at an average of 5 points, with the bookies still having Labour as favourites to be the largest party in 2015. Indeed, Mike Smithson from PoliticalBetting notes that one has to go down to number 89 on Labour’s target list to find a seat where the Tory incumbent is favourite to hold their seat.
All this spells out trouble for the Tory HQ, hence the rebranding of the party yet again. The Conservative party is now to become the party of “the hard working people”, one that is in touch with the desires of the ordinary folk. This stems from the fact that a huge barrier to Conservative victory is that it still holds the image of being “the nasty party”, seeking to only represent the elite minority. As a ComRes survey for the Independent highlighted, 51 percent of respondents agreed, “The Conservative party only represents the interests of the rich” whilst 24 percent disagreed with this statement. Additionally a recent Ipsos MORI poll found that the Tory brand is still more toxic than the Labour one as 40 percent of voters would never consider voting for the Conservatives, in comparison to 33 percent who would never vote Labour.
Moreover, Labour has managed to reframe the debate on the economy on to one of squeezed living standards, allowing them to brand the Tories as out of touch. To ensure a victory the Tories need to reverse this trend, they cannot be seen as governing for the interests of the minority. Indeed an ITV News Poll in January 2014 perfectly captures the Tories’ problem as it showed that even though the economy had its best annual performance since 2007, 61 percent of voters believe this growth has only benefitted the rich.
Ultimately this rebranding won’t fix the party’s problem because it is a façade. As was the case in 2006 when Cameron first decided to rebrand the Tory image, change is only occurring at a superficial level. In fact, five out of six members drafting the Conservative manifesto for 2015 went to Eton, the one member that didn’t – Chancellor George Osborne- attended the elite St Paul’s. When people of the same upper middle class background are drafting policy and no other voices are heard, the danger of representing simply those exclusive interests becomes even greater.
If the Conservative party truly wished to become the “workers’ party” then it would not only include people from diverse backgrounds in its policy unit but it would carry out policies that actually helped these workers. Policies such as cutting the top rate of tax for the top 1 percent of earners, pushing forward with market reforms in the NHS and selling the Royal Mail on the cheap at a cost to the taxpayers do not bode well with the party’s attempt to dust off its posh image. In such circumstances, the Conservative’s best hope for 2015 is that they successfully manage to brand Labour so fiscally incompetent that their posh image does not matter come election day.