Today , the Conservatives are likely to lose a second seat to the ever-present UKIP machine. In many ways, this loss poses a greater risk to the Conservative party and David Cameron than the earlier election of Douglas Carswell. A combination of demographics and personal voting ensured that it was always going to be hard for the Conservatives to hold this seat. However, Rochester and Stroud, located in the affluent South East and with a close proximity to London, is more fertile Conservative territory and one that has become a bellwether for how the Tory vote will hold up against the UKIP threat. Despite this, it is not looking good; the persistent failure of David Cameron to confront the issue of immigration seems likely to have done serious damage to their chances in this seat and others. Whilst from the literature it seems to be an issue the Conservatives are taking seriously, filling flyers with focus group messaging, it is naïve to believe that the electorate is taking this seriously. It is more likely to be seen as what it is, a disingenuous and calculated strategy to win back voters that have deserted them post-2010. In an effort to rid the nasty party image during Cameron’s nascent tenure, party strategists thought it would be easier to simply ignore the problem of immigration. But these were genuine concerns and to be dismissed as ‘fruitcakes and loonies’ for voicing them only served to alienate large numbers. By being so reticent to talk about the issue from the start, they have allowed UKIP to shape and control the narrative, forcing the Conservatives into hyperbole when dealing with the issue and preventing any attempt at what should be a rational and rounded debate.
It seems that in an attempt to win the general election in 6 months time, the Conservatives have retreated into a core vote strategy focusing on the votes of the small ‘c’ conservatives. Not only will this prove insufficient to guarantee re-entry to Downing Street in 2015, but such an expedient approach could see the Conservative Party locked out for far longer. Admittedly, the Conservatives, who achieved around 36 per cent of the vote in 2010 but are now consistently polling at around 30 per cent, need to retain those who voted for them in 2010. However, the fact remains that this was still insufficient to win them enough seats to govern independently. Simply put, for the Conservative Party to ever achieve a majority again they must reach out to new voters. By prioritising their traditional vote in a desperate bid to gather as many votes in the next six months, they are in danger of regressing into the very party David Cameron was trying to modernise when he said ‘let sunshine win the day’ almost nine years ago. Far from guaranteeing them electoral success in 2015, this will only distance themselves further from those groups whose support will be essential in elections to come. One only needs look at America and the demographic marginalisation that the Republican Party is currently facing, as evidence of this.
The Conservatives should not be dictated to by UKIP. Rather, they should focus on completing the modernisation of the party into one that focuses on increasing prosperity to the benefit of everyone in society. This may not provide immediate success in Rochester or 2015, but it will ensure the survival of the party into the new century and enable it to assimilate a winning coalition of voters. For the Tories, the imminent danger is that the actions of Mr Carswell and Reckless may lead others to believe that running on the UKIP ticket is more auspicious to their chances of re-election. Whether David Cameron is able to survive these inevitable losses, remains to be seen.
By Edward Stevenson, who recently graduated with a degree in Politics and Economics. He is interested in British Politics and, in particular, political campaign strategies.