Earlier this year, the pollster Lord Ashcroft conducted conversations with voters to find out what they associated with particular political parties. The results of one such focus group are remarkably detailed and rather amusing.
When asked to consider what kind of house the Conservative party might be, people described a property “with nice thick carpets and one of those kitchen islands”. Ashcroft explains that people imagined “there are Hunter wellies in the hall and a posh dog, probably a chocolate Labrador”.
The group assumed “you can’t get to the door because there is an intercom at the gates” and once inside “you have to wipe your feet”. A person’s tolerance level for a muddy hallway is hardly a robust measure of their voting intention, but the picture is pretty clear.
And by the way, the Labour house was described as being “in a terrace, with the front door leading straight on to the pavement… High-vis jackets hang in the hallway.”
Well, if one Tory MP has his way, that second property could – indeed, should – be true blue as well.
Robert Halfon, the energetic and effective MP for Harlow, is launching The Conservative Workers and Trade Union Movement, designed to press home the idea that the Tory party is the true workers’ party.
“We have always been the workers’ party,” says Halfon. Popular caricature might present the Tories as the enemy of the trade union movement, but Halfon is determined to debunk this.
His enthusiasm for this cause is undeniable, and his thoughts on “white van man” are probably a million miles away from those of the Islington MP Emily Thornberry who appeared so taken aback by a terraced house draped in England flags that she tweeted: “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In addition to Halfon’s evident conviction that his party should speak (and act) for blue collar workers, the idea also reflects shifting political sands.
Those imaginary voters with the Hunter wellies and the posh dog won’t sustain a political party in need of members and activists.
Reconnecting with aspirational, working class voters is an electoral necessity. Miliband lost them in a fog of academia and many have found a voice with UKIP.
If anyone can win them back to the Tory cause, it’s Halfon.