THE BLOG

The Core Is No Place for Any Political Party

10/12/2014 17:39 GMT | Updated 08/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Lord Mandelson's warning, featured in the Huffington Post, about Labour relying on its core vote can be applied to all the main political parties. Unless we want to end up with permanent coalition governments, the Westminster parties need to find some confidence and broaden their approach.

Sadly though, a core strategy approach is fundamentally a risk averse approach. For a politician, especially for the Labour and Conservative parties, that want a chance of ending up in government, a core strategy approach is the best chance of ending up there. The chances of a majority are though, slim. If they want to win on their own then they need to look beyond their core.

So is it power for a purpose the parties are seeking or simply a wish to be in government. We still do not really understand Coalition's in this country yet. In simple terms, there was an assumption the first Westminster Coalition of modern times, after the 2010 election, marked a sea-change. But that ignored the success of Coalitions in Scotland, Wales, NI and across vast swathes of them in local government. In this view a one-party majority looks like the exception.

The Coalition also emerged in quite a straightforward manner. The same will certainly not be true post 2015. Discussions will be more bruising and it is not clear that any of the parties would get their 'main issues' into any joint agenda. In this light being in Coalition is series of difficult, often conflicting, decisions that this time around were largely avoided, certainly for the Conservative party. The key driver of deficit reduction has been a core that has held the Coalition together. A similar core may be missing from future Coalitions and this could make them more unstable.

A core strategy approach is representative of a lack of confidence on behalf of the political parties. The Conservative Party tried to widen its appeal before 2010. Its wide-ranging manifesto took in a whole swathe of policies, especially in relation to climate change and the environment, that were a deliberate attempt to show a return to a more 'One Nation' approach, embracing a changed Britain. These policies have now been, at best, side-lined at the expense of Europe, welfare and immigration.

Ed Miliband did try to hijack the One Nation phrase as a way of demonstrating that the party was looking at the interests of the whole country. But the phrase didn't even feature in his last party conference speech (23 September 2014). One Nation, it has been suggested, does not fit a political narrative which suggests that some sectors, the business community or 'mansion' owners will be targeted if the party gets into Government.

The Tony Blair model of the Labour Party had to reassure the electorate that it could be trusted on the issues that mattered most to them. Yes the NHS and education were important but the electorate also needed to see that they could be trusted on the economy. The door was left open by John Major and Norman Lamont following Black Wednesday but the commitment regarding tax and public spending cemented Labour's credentials at least up to the point that the electorate were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Miliband, however, is not trusted on the economy or as a leader. Polls consistently make this point. Instead of using this a springboard to reach out, the decision has been taken to focus on the core support.

Cameron's failure to 'stop banging on about Europe' is one way in which he is increasingly paying more attention to his party than wider policy developments. For many, 'we are all in this together' from the Conservative Party, now has a hollow ring to it.

The Lib Dems appear to have little option but to rely on their core vote in key seats. Polling from Lord Ashcroft suggests that they will keep seats and that the incumbency factor is helping them. For places where there are not currently strong, take Rochester and Strood as an example, then they could lose a lot of deposits. The irony being that the Lib Dems would love the opportunity not to have to rely on a core vote and an activist base but have the chance of a wider appeal. That is, after all, partly what entering into a Coalition was all about.

A core strategy is dangerously close to agreeing to a Coalition in advance. No wonder the SNP has stated what it wants from any future negotiations well in advance. If you need an example of how well a party can do by trying to broaden its appeal, then just look at the SNP. They are the model of a growing, dynamic party and show that it can be done if a leadership has confidence.