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Can David Cameron ignore the Right of his party for much longer?

A new set of results from a Guardian/ICM poll has found that the Conservatives would be more appealing to the electorate if they took more hardline positions on social affairs, which will come as a great disappointment both to the political left, as well as loyalists to David Cameron who take a more liberal stance on issues such as gay marriage.

By a ratio of 69%-24% those who took part in the poll said that Tories could boost their appeal by supporting the traditional family. 67%, compared with 25%, said that Tories would be more appealing if they took a harder line on Europe, while 88% of Tories and 98% of Ukip voters believe that a harder line towards immigration would help the Conservatives.

This comes after an embarrassing by-election in Eastleigh where the Conservatives finished third behind their unpopular coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, and their close political rivals the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip).

After the loss, however, David Cameron promised that his party would not be turning towards the political right.

But Cameron does not have form on this front. After Labour held their seat in the Ealing Southall by-election in June 2007, David Cameron went to the press criticising policies around immigration and deviating somewhat from his more liberal Conservative positioning.

In August Cameron went on the attack saying: “I think the levels of migration we see in the early part of the decade [1997-2007] of this government, when the asylum numbers were very high, and the later part of the decade, when immigration settlement numbers were very high – I think we have put too great a burden on public services“.

Further blaming immigrants for pressurised public services, in October Cameron said: “Gordon Brown is treating people like fools over immigration“.

He went further still: “Immigrants make a huge contribution to the British economy, but there are pressures from unlimited immigration on hospitals and schools. There are benefits in having immigration, but in having it controlled.

As Tim Bale in a 2011 article for The Political Quarterly drew upon, Cameron suffered a tough loss in the Ealing and Southall by-election in 2007, looked weak after the so–called “Brown bounce” – then appeared on Newsnight, talking about how people were worried about the pressures of immigration on public services.

Cameron here obviously felt it necessary to switch his political rhetoric away from the typical Tory One Nation standard and be harder on immigration.

According to an Ipso Mori poll studying 2010/11 matters of political importance, immigration was more focal than the NHS, crime/law and order and unemployment, and leagues away from the 1997 general election run up where immigration was of very minor importance indeed.

In February 2011, from a sample of 1004 adults, 37% felt that immigration was a very big problem, 37% believed it was a problem, 16% felt it was not a very big problem and 5% felt it was not a problem at all.

Further, according to a YouGov poll studying the same period, 35% of those who voted Conservative in 2010 appealed to family values over anything else, 41% voted for them on matters of traditional values (compared to just 19% for Labour) and 28% on patriotism – while only 6% voted for the Tories appealing to tolerance and diversity (which, actually, Cameron sought to highlight).

It takes a lot for someone on the political left to say this but David Cameron is taking quite a principled stand against the right flank of his party of late. As Liam Fox hinted yesterday at the “socialist coup” filtering through his party (what kind of socialism it is needs slightly unpacking), many on the Conservative right call out Cameron on his more progressive principles and in response has sought to challenge, rather than back down, on them.

With his tip towards dog-whistling after the by-election of Ealing Southall, and the newly self-assured pressure within his party, many expected Cameron to push rightwards this time.

Clearly it would be easier for him to do so. It would appease the backbenchers, stop the resignations to Ukip from his own party, and pinch back those voters who find Nigel Farage more appealing (it should be said Ukip’s boost is cut in the most recent poll by ICM).

But if Cameron can hold off the pressure from the right of his party I think that’s something worth paying attention to. For the left, it means that the Labour party could, if it had the political willing, potentially push leftwards and withstand the pressure from the existing Blairite cuckoos.

One Comment

  1. Dave says:

    “withstand the pressure from the existing Blairite cuckoos.”

    It may well be too late – the Blairites appear to have captured the PLP and have institutionalised their presence with the undemocratic Progress Party.

    I left the LP a few months ago, after reading the account of New Labour’s shocking NHS-privatisation passion in Prof Allyson Pollock’s book ‘NHS plc’. I just couldn’t stomach handing over any more membership subs to these people and regret donating extra money on rejoining when Ed acknowledged the Iraq disaster.

    It seems that the rising dislike of the Tories has yet to find tangible expression as enthusiasm for Labour. Indeed, I note that people in Bristol, having rejected the Labour favourite and opted for an independent mayor, are now busily establishing an independent slate* for the May council elections. No doubt they’ll be thinking about parliamentary representation come 2015 – in an area containing two of Labour’s target seats.

    Not without reason people now see Labour as being part of the problem – that’s why I joined the National Health Action Party.

    * http://www.ifbristol.org.uk/

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