On the last day of Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister made his final conference speech ahead of next year’s General Election. Cameron took the stage at a strange time for the Conservative Party: Any encouragement taken from Labour’s underwhelming conference and overall performance has been diminished by the recent defection of two Conservative MPs to UKIP.
At conference itself, the atmosphere was optimistic and this was a confident speech. Cameron promised that the UK will balance the books by 2018 through spending cuts alone and will put immigration at the heart of the UK’s re-negotiation with the EU. This speech focused on the five issues which the Conservatives believe voters prioritise: their job, home, income, education, and their retirement.
In terms of policy announcements, the most significant were on personal tax: increasing the tax free allowance will be increased to £12,500 and raising the 40p tax threshold to £50,000. The financial services sector will be pleased with the pledge to ensure the UK’s corporation tax remains the lowest in the G20, but the promise did come with the warning that multi-national corporations will be under more pressure to pay their taxes.
The Conservatives are focusing on the man opposite them: Ed Miliband.
Strategically, this was a speech that looked to concentrate the General Election campaign against Labour and their economic credibility. Rather than looking to woo UKIP voters on the UKIP policy areas of immigration and Europe, Cameron is calling on voters to look at what matters most to them personally in the hope that they will cast their vote by comparing the Conservatives to Labour’s economic strategy rather than to UKIP’s EU strategy.
The Conservative Party is undeniably losing voters to Farage, but their campaign machine wants to turn the election into a contest between Cameron and Miliband, and to focus on their respective economic plans. The Conservatives boast a 25 point lead over Labour on voters’ perception of economic competence and they will be looking to drive that message home over the next eight months.
Through the simple “a vote for UKIP is a vote for Labour” messaging, the Conservatives are refusing to move further to the right and chase the UKIP defectors. The Tories have decided that chasing UKIP defectors is similar to a card player chasing losses, and that rarely ends well. Instead, the Conservatives have decided that the best strategy is to play the man opposite them, and that man is Ed Miliband and his economic credibility.
The Conservatives are effectively saying to UKIP supporters, “If Labour wins the next election, Europe will be the least of your problems.”