The Tories Pay A High Price For Their Low Reputation FT Essay

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The Tories pay a high price for their low reputation ­

The Tories pay a high price for their low reputation Janan Ganesh

Increasingly voting Conservative is a transgressive act, like being a punk or emo


UK prime minister David Cameron in front of a Conservative party campaign poster


n politics, the word “brand” itself has a bad brand. At best, it sounds shallow. At worst, it evokes a marketing spiv. Swap the B­word for “reputation” and suddenly it is easier to talk about this decisive electoral variable. For nobody doubts that a party’s reputation — its image and perceived values, the gut reaction created by a mention of its name — goes a long way to determining its prospects.
If the Conservatives lose the general election next month, they can only blame their own reputation. The spheres have aligned for the incumbents. The economy is the strongest in
Europe. David Cameron is preferred to Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, as prime minister.
The right­tilting press is doing its potent work. Party donors have chipped in generously. It would be no surprise if even the weather is nicer in Tory than in Labour wards on May 7.


Cameron plans further Lloyds sell­off And still the party cannot escape the noxious reputation that began to form in the 1980s, calcified in the 1990s, softened promisingly under Mr Cameron in the last decade, and hardened again in this one. Too many Britons, including some eye­wateringly rightwing ones, refuse to vote Conservative as a matter of identity. In Scotland, northern urban England and increasingly even London, that buccaneering free­market, the




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The Tories pay a high price for their low reputation ­

party is Other. Supporting it is a transgressive act, like being a punk or emo.
In polls, in focus groups, on doorsteps, the Tory party encounters people who are quietly admiring of its work in government and still cannot bring themselves to mark a ballot in its favour. As long as there are conservatives who are not
Conservative, the party will fall short of its electoral potential.
Next to this old, fathomlessly deep problem, worrying about the Tory election campaign is otiose and small­bore, like quibbling with the stride pattern of a sprinter who is running hamstrung. Westminster dwells too much on the particular and not the general; the temporal and not the structural. It also has no memory. Critics who panned the party’s 2010 campaign for putting airy ideals over market­tested messages deride this one for its lack of ideals and reliance on market­tested messages. Even if both criticisms were correct, neither matters because campaigns do not count except at the most local level. Voters are not blank atoms who are acted upon and done to, at least not by a five­week national campaign. They have instincts and prejudices that form glacially. Over decades the Tories have failed to understand this process, much less influence it, and so they find themselves on the wrong side of it. They have acquired infamy in a country they used to dominate because they have not tended to the shallow things that really matter: image and reputation. They are viewed as the party of the