by Peter Franklin
Friday, 10
September 2021

How Conservatives MPs are different from their voters

The party is economically liberal, but the people who vote for them are not
by Peter Franklin
Boris Johnson and Conservative MPs.

With the Government putting up taxes to pay for the social care crisis, Conservative MPs are in need of some care of their own. In the Telegraph, one anonymous MP is reported as saying that he “had gone home to his partner and cried because of the decisions he had had to vote on, adding that he did not know what a Tory was any more.”

He and his colleagues should brace themselves for more ideological pain. The fact is that the Conservative Party now has a split personality. While the Parliamentary party is economically liberal — if not downright libertarian — the people who vote for them are anything but.

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This can be seen in the following chart — tweeted by Tim Bale — on the economic values of Conservative and Labour MPs, members and voters:

As you can see there is a much wider divide between Tory MPs and Tory voters than there is between Labour MPs and Labour voters. In reaction to statements like “there is one law for the rich and one for the poor”, the Conservative Parliamentary party is a long way to the Right of the public, including the Tory-voting public. 

So what should the party do? One approach might be stick with economic liberalism and hope that cultural issues are enough to keep voters onside. However, that strategy isn’t working very well for their Republican cousins in America (the GOP has only won the popular vote once in the last eight Presidential elections). 

The other way forward is to keep their libertarian sympathies to themselves and implement the agenda that their voters clearly expect from them. Boris Johnson certainly wants to give that impression. But wouldn’t that mean that both the main parties had basically the same economic programme?

Not if one looks closer at the chart. There are two value statements on which Tory MPs and voters are quite close to one another. The first concerns redistribution. Tory voters want government to intervene in the economy to achieve fairness not equality. Understanding the difference between these two objectives is key to achieving a distinctly Tory but popular economic agenda. 

The other issue of comparative agreement was on whether “big business takes advantage of ordinary people”. It would seem that Conservative MPs are more willing to accept there may be a problem with over-mighty corporations than with capitalism in general.  

These are the right instincts to follow. In Conservative hands, government intervention shouldn’t be seen as a betrayal of capitalism, but as an attempt to save it from its worst tendencies. 

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Terry Needham
Terry Needham
1 year ago

I don’t vote Tory, and as I didn’t vote at all at the last election I don’t claim to have a dog in this fight, but I was surprised to hear that Tory MPs are in tune with their voter base on cultural issues.

Andrew Sainsbury
Andrew Sainsbury
1 year ago

As my first unherd contribution I would like to point out the obvious interpretation of this data; that political parties represent nobody but themselves.

Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
1 year ago

To understand the chart, I think there needs to be a clear definition of Lab Voters, Con Voters and All Voters. Does a Con Voter mean a “Con Supporter” who has always instinctively voted that way? Or does it mean “voted Con in the last election”, which was an unusual one influenced by Brexit and Con gains in traditional Lab seats? Does All Voters mean the electorate in general, or people who cast a vote? There are a lot of people who feel politically homeless and just didn’t vote at all. Interpreting polling surveys is always going to be fraught with difficulty.
Notwithstanding these difficulties, one of the more interesting things from the chart is that in 4 of the 5 results, ‘All Voters’ was more or less mid-way between Lab Voters and Con Voters. But for the statement “ordinary working people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth”, Con Voters were right alongside All Voters and far to the left of Con Members. Maybe this confirms that there are a lot of disaffected people who might be described as blue Labour who lent their vote to the Cons in the last election.