During the 2001 election, which Tony Blair went on to win securing a second term, pollsters from ICM came up with the phrase “Pebbledash people” as the group the Tories had to woo in order for them to have a fighting chance of winning. They were married couples aged 35 to 50, white-collar workers and professionals, who lived in semi-detached, often pebble dashed, homes in the suburb.
The group is just one example of cohorts, conveniently congealed together, that political parties feel they need to fight for in order to win an election. With Thatcher, the “Basildon Man” or “Essex Man” explained her electoral success, while with Tony Blair he fondly remembers “Mondeo Man” who went on to be the face of New Labour’s new constituency.
With the Tories, who they designate as must-grab voters is always very interesting. The very wealthy are usually sold come what (M)ay, whereas the working class Tory vote may be harder to pin down – particularly in times when they are feeling the pinch as much as anyone.
In a recent YouGov poll, their volunteers decided which political parties their favourite soap stars would vote for. Surprisingly (or stupidly) the majority of those who took part in the survey decided Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses would vote Labour, despite clearly being a typical working class Conservative. We know this because he tries, by all means, to be someone who he is not i.e. one who throws French words, erroneously, into casual speech, pretense he lives the life of the rich and famed, appeals to a millionaire’s lifestyle, fancy cocktails in working men’s clubs, and the constant, failing, hope for aspiration “this time next year we’ll be millionaires”.
Seemingly, Del Boy is the perfect “Basildon Man” – despite not being from Basildon. But “Basildon Man” is not only about appeals to false aspiration. The advertising magazine Campaign tried to describe them via reference to a current politician at the time, a fellow Basildonian, on 26 January 1990: “Representative [David Amess, a] new Essex man, working-class, father electrician, right-wing, keen hanger, noisily rambunctious, no subtlety”. If it sounds like someone you know, I wonder if they’re thinking of changing their vote this coming election?
Tim Montgomerie’s column in today’s Times (£) reveals a rumour that two Conservative MPs are “seriously considering” defecting to UKIP. They would not be the first – there is Alexandra Swann, Bob Spink and Roger Helmer, too. The type of voter being lost here looks and sounds a lot like how Campaign describe David Amess. UKIP are stealing “Basildon Man” from the Tories.
The question is can Cameron’s Tories afford to lose him? They could not get a majority last time, and since the departure of Steve Hilton, the chirpy chirpy compassionate conservative narrative has been silent. But it has not been replaced with a politics that can usefully take on UKIP for the Tory right vote. Has it got the bottle to fight for the political centre, or will it give in to the right closer to the election? Cameron has a pig of a job in the next few months!