The Guardian

How the Tory election machine fell apart

The conventional wisdom is that the Conservatives are good at elections. Last month they failed spectacularly. But do recriminations about negative tactics mask deeper problems for a party that hasn’t won convincingly since the Thatcher era?
In the 2017 general election, an anticipated landslide turned in a few weeks into no majority at all.

In September 2015, a few months after the Conservatives had won that year’s general election, more comfortably than even their most optimistic supporters had hoped, a veteran Tory politician and journalist was waiting to appear on a BBC radio show. Still smiling about the election, he was in expansive mood. The party’s targeting of voters had become so precise, he told me, thanks to the latest marketing software, that it would take Labour many years to catch up.

During this year’s general election, as in 2015, Tory activists across Britain were supplied with computer-generated lists of amenable voters by Conservative campaign headquarters in London. But this time, many canvassers got a shock when they knocked on doors. “The data was only 65% accurate,” says a local Tory organiser who has worked in the party’s heartlands in southern England for decades. “In the marginals, it was less than 50%.” In some cases, canvassers were accidentally sent to the addresses of activists for rival parties. The organiser says: “I despair of our national campaign.”

Theresa May meeting voters , during the 2017 general election campaign.
A voter in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, confronts Theresa May over disability benefit cuts during the 2017 general election campaign. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The idea that the Conservatives are good at general elections is one of the least-challenged conventional wisdoms of British politics. A large and loyal core vote; copious party funds; flexible beliefs; disciplined campaign messaging; slick presentation; an utter lack of squeamishness about going negative; the relentless support of most of the press; an ability to portray opponents as alien to Britain, to game the electoral system and to set the terms of political debate; and the pervasive belief that the

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