As they gather for conference, the Tories must fight to save their brandby George Magnus / October 2, 2017 / Leave a comment
This week’s Conservative Party conference will probably make for a sorry spectacle. The weakness of the prime minister means no end to the atom-splitting effect of Brexit on the Party. The truce that her Florence speech was supposed to bring was gone in a moment. Indeed, it’s hard to see the party as a credible political force in the country, or providing political leadership to its followers—and electoral waverers—while the status quo endures. Worse, if things could be, is that the Conservative Party’s principal brand, managing the economy, is under threat.
Although Jeremy Corbyn assured the Labour conference last week that brand had been destroyed, the latest Yougov polling numbers suggest that the Conservatives still have a 12 per cent lead on “managing the economy in general.” Nevertheless, the brand is certainly under threat from Brexit directly, and indeed indirectly as Brexit could paint the party into a single-issue corner where all its energy is consumed.
Conservatives should know what it means to leverage, and to lose the brand. After the Labour Party’s economic credibility dissipated in the economic and IMF crisis in the second half of the 1970s, the Conservatives succeeded in building and preserving their brand from 1979 until 1992. Then though, they lost it irreversibly in the ERM crisis, even though the economy bounced back in the period leading to Tony Blair’s first Labour victory in 1997. The Conservative Party brand was re-leveraged after the financial crisis but how damaged is it now?
Voters can sometimes be quite resilient politically during cyclical ups and downs in the economy, as was demonstrated in the 2015 election, and even, it should be said until earlier this year. Something, though, has clearly snapped. Corbyn told the Labour conference last week that 2017 was the year when politics finally caught up with the financial crisis in 2008, and Theresa May responded the next day by acknowledging that since then the economy hasn’t been “working as it should for everyone.” On this at least, they agree.
“The conventional economic scorecard may be giving a misleading impression as to the strength of the Conservative brand”
May said as much when pitching for the party leadership last year when she spoke to serious public concerns about stagnant…