A new Conservative MP has been elected in Southend, and quite right too in the light of the (relatively new) convention that other major parties should leave the way clear so that assassination is not rewarded by a change in political representation.
40% of registered electors voted for her predecessor, and now 21% have voted for her. It is difficult to know why the other 19% stayed at home this time. One factor will be that they knew they did not have to turn out to make a difference. Another might be a quiet abstention reflecting distaste at some aspects of the present Government. It would be hard to discern which, if either, factor dominated in their minds.
It mirrors approximately 15% of registered voters staying at home in the recent North Shropshire by-election having previously voted Conservative. The fact that less than 5% of registered voters voted Liberal then having previously voted Conservative might actually be an encouragement to the Conservative Party – gaining only 5% of voters when all the factors are in your favour (no risk of the Government falling and scandal surrounded the MP who had resigned) seems pretty paltry, while quiet abstainers are more likely to resume support when the next Government-choosing election comes along.
Meanwhile, I’m not convinced that a change in Prime Minister now or soon would be a significant factor when that next General Election does come along. The Conservative Party only needs the active support of about a quarter of registered electors to form a Government (perhaps the 15% or so of the electorate who are committed Conservative voters and 10% who might otherwise have not voted at all or who might otherwise have voted for another party?) and it was a full 29% at the last Boris and Brexit defined General Election. So next time two-thirds of the electorate feeling so radically opposed to him that they vote for others or disengage from voting at all wouldn’t actually matter.
I suspect that the November 2021 tightening of editorial responsibility in the Mail group of papers was a much more significant factor. On one recent Friday, every other major newspaper led with Boris being on the rocks, except the Daily Mail which led with Keir Starmer being a hypocrite. Boris trying out the lines ‘We get the big calls right’, ‘There is a difference between a Lawyer and a Leader’, and ‘Starmer failed as Director of Public Prosecutions’ looked bumbling but helps refine which lines of attack will resonate with the 10% of electors who might not otherwise vote Conservative next time.
If the brand ‘of course Boris is a bit of a chancer but he isn’t constrained by ridiculous political correctness and got Brexit done’ remains attractive to the potential 10%, the Party will stick with him. If the brand ‘we’ve left lock-down breaking behind and have buckled down to a more clearly honest and diligent delivery programme’ becomes more attractive, they will dump him. I can’t think whichever it is will make much electoral difference
And I’m not sure that anyone who is close to or anywhere left of Boris’ slightly moderate Conservative position would be as grateful if he goes as they might think they would be. I can’t think any of the potential successors and emboldened libertarian bank benchers would be delivering political choices they favour (as they welcome another lawyer into their Parliamentary Party).