by Stephen Tall on October 9, 2008
At the start of the week, Lib Dem Voice emailed the members of our private forum (open to all Lib Dem members) inviting them to take part in a survey, conducted via Liberty Research, asking a number of questions about the current state of British politics, especially as they affect the Lib Dems. Many thanks to the 177 of you who have so far completed it.
We started off asking about the Labour and Tory conferences: From all that you have seen and read, how successful do you think the Labour/Conservative party conference was in terms of showing the party in a positive light?
Here’s how you judged the Labour party conference:
Quite / very successful – 43%
Okay – 42%
Quite / very unsuccessful – 12%
Don’t know / No opinion – 2%
And the Tory party conference:
Quite / very successful – 42%
Okay – 42%
Quite / very unsuccessful – 14%
Don’t know / No opinion – 2%
Very similar numbers of you regarded both the Labour and Tory conferences, therefore, as successful to some extent, and only a small minority – not even one-in-seven of you – regarded them as unsuccessful. You can compare these figures with what LDV-reading party members thought about the Lib Dem conference here. In summary, each of the major party’s conferences succeeded, according to you, in presenting the political parties in a generally positive light – which probably explains why party conferences remain a staple of the political calendar, even though their policy-making role is much diminished, certainly as far as Labour or the Tories are concerned.
We then looked at the respective positions of the Labour and Tory leaders, asking first: How likely do you think it is that Gordon Brown will remain as Labour leader until the next general election?
According to LDV-reading party members, he can breathe a sigh of relief:
Very likely – 38%
Fairly likely – 53%
Fairly unlikely – 7%
Very unlikely – 1%
The following comments seemed to capture the mood of many of you: “Because none of them have the courage to topple him, still less to take the blame for losing the election.” And “His reshuffle actions as well as Miliband’s weakness and the credit crunch shall assure his place in No 10 until 2010.”
What result would we have got if we had asked that question one month ago, I wonder? And what result will we get when next we ask it?
We then tried to gauge to what extent you believe David Cameron has genuinely tried to ‘modernise’ his party, and if you think he’s succeeded: In his conference speech David Cameron argued that the Conservative party has changed in his three years as leader. His critics counter that it is largely a marketing trick, and that the Conservative party remains the same party. Which of these statements is closest to your view:
1% – David Cameron is a liberal Conservative who has genuinely changed the Conservatives into a modern, inclusive party much more in tune with today’s society
21% – David Cameron is a liberal Conservative but his leadership has had minimal impact on the wider party, which remains largely right-wing and reactionary
66% – David Cameron is a true-blue Tory who has simply marketed skilfully the Conservative party as modern and inclusive while in reality it remains largely right-wing and reactionary
11% – Other
1% – Don’t know / No opinion
This question provoked a lot more comment, with some very pithy and acute analysis; here’s a selection:
“A small group of Conservatives, including David Cameron, are different from the party at large; this could be a principled position or could be a cynical marketing ploy, it’s difficult to tell; the membership however are the same as they’ve always been.”
“I have no idea what Cameron’s real beliefs are, but they don’t affect much of the Conservative grass roots. He’s a lot like Tony Blair, though without the strategic gifts (and Mandelson).”
“Even if Cameron had changed the parliamentary party (which he hasn’t), or the candidates (which he hasn’t), the grass roots membership remains the same coalition of small state libertarians, social conservatives, and Europhobes – with almost every member fulfilling at least two of those criteria.”
“I wish there was an option lying somewhere between the first two options. He has changed the Tories and the change is not minimal (as stated in option 2), but neither is the change as glowing as implied in option one.”
“If you’d asked me last year, I’d have said Cameron was a liberal Tory struggling against the natural inclinations of his own party membership. Now I’m less convinced. He’s managed to detoxify the Conservatives’ image, but most of his (few) substantive policy proposals have been reactionary, right-wing and unpleasantly moralistic.”
“Cameron thinks he is a liberal Conservative but he is a paternalist moralising centraliser so neither liberal nor Conservative.”
“Cameron is very dangerous for Liberals. He is is clever, well advised and well backed. He is a Conservative, but as someone else has said has learned to be comfortable with the 1960s. We throw insults at him at our peril.”
“Cameron is a true Disraelian Conservative; inclusive, far from reactionary, modern and far from liberal”
“There are genuine elements within the Tory party that recognise the need to change to be more in tune with today’s society and they are having some impact – there are other parts that remain right-wing and reactionary. David Cameron is neither – he is a skilful salesman who concentrates on making them electable. It is more complicated than the choices on offer!”
“Cameron is a Burkean ‘One Nation’ Tory of a traditional type (in the mould of Rab Butler or Ian Macleod) but in a modern idiom. He is liberal in some ways – belief in Burke’s ‘small platoons’ rather than state power and a lack of personal prejudice – but not in the fuller understanding of the term that we as liberals should uphold. He has had some success in reforming his party at Shadow Cabinet level but many grassroots Conservatives remain pretty unreconstructed.”
“David Cameron is an empty space with a smile on the front – he believes in getting into power, but clearly has no ideas for why he should be there or what he would do. Worse, he appears to be happy with the state of affairs.”
“Cameron has certain more liberal attitudes than the average for his party particularly on social issues, though I don’t believe he has been very effective in bringing his party along with him except where they recognise it as a necessary electioneering tactic. He remains, however, a Conservative, not a liberal and his party has not changed.”