Why ice cream sellers' behaviour points to a big Tory election win

Winning elections is not about winning a Cannes Lion, writes the chief executive of London Advertising.

Have you ever noticed how on a busy beach with two ice cream sellers they invariably end up in the middle of the beach next to each other?

While it might not maximise the sale of ice creams (as buyers at the edges will be less inclined to walk there) it is an outcome that tells us a lot about the behaviour of political parties and, if you will bear with me, offers us a clear view of the outcome of the forthcoming general election.

Location theory ("Hotellings' Law" to be precise) suggests that while it is in the best interests of both the sellers for each to be equidistant from each other, this is not the likely to happen.

If one seller realises he can edge a bit closer to the middle he will increase his share of his competitors patch. Likewise his opposite number realises the same and within no time they have both reached the centre in a Mexican stand-off.

This theory is used to explain why you find burger bars, coffee shops and all sorts of other businesses in clusters next to each other rather than evenly spread out across a neighbourhood.

If you replace the beach with the voting public we can see why it is essential for any party serious about winning a general election to occupy the centre ground ("voting public" does not mean people of voting age but those who are actually going to be bothered to go out and vote).

Also the landscape of the voting public shifts over time (rather like the sands on a beach). Corbyn's first mistake was to confuse his appeal among young new Labour members with the voting public.

Young people tend not to vote, as we saw so clearly in the EU Referendum. Tony Blair, irrespective of what you think of him personally, was Labour's most successful leader winning three elections by occupying the centre ground of where the voting public sat.

David Cameron was also successful in wrenching the Conservatives back to the centre ground, but just as he did he had to deal with a competitor that had set up its stall on the right hand side of the beach – UKIP. This made it harder to win an outright majority in 2010 against Gordon Brown, who the public did not want as PM, which meant we ended up with a Con-Lib coalition.

In 2015, with the advice of Lynton Crosby ringing in his ears, Cameron realised he had to neutralise the UKIP threat on his flank by offering a referendum – a promise he never thought he would have to honour as he expected he would be in another coalition with Nick Clegg.

It was Crosby's decapitation strategy of the Liberals that led to Cameron winning an outright majority but it was his advice to remove Gove as minister for education that lost him his premiership. Gove felt his bond of loyalty to Cameron was broken so he could actively campaign for vote leave. It was Gove who persuaded Boris to do the same. And it was Boris what won it.

Corbyn and his supporters thought that the problem with Miliband was that he was not left-wing enough, which totally mis-understands the nature of the British electorate. This has effectively left the beach wide open to the Conservatives.

At the last election Miliband had moved Labour to the left, which vacated enough ground for the Conservatives to win a small overall majority. Forget Labour's implosion in Scotland – even had Miliband won all 59 seats north of the border the Conservatives would have still won a majority in Westminster.

So Labour lost, Miliband resigned and Labour had a leadership election. Now for this election a section of the beach on the left was cordoned off just for Labour members. So the battle for the centre ground on the left was far away from the centre ground of the voting public beach.

But also thanks to Miliband's new rules a new section of the beach was in effect created for new members who only had to £3 to join the Party. This had the effect of allowing a far left candidate to win the Labour leadership contest and, lo and behold, Corbyn was duly elected.

Corbyn and his supporters thought that the problem with Miliband was that he was not left-wing enough, which totally mis-understands the nature of the British electorate. This has effectively left the beach wide open to the Conservatives.

So what does Theresa May do? She can now not only occupy the centre of the beach (especially as Ukip has gone into existential meltdown) but also move further onto the left hand side to increase her overall share, which is why we have seen the energy price cap announcement and will see in the manifesto next week higher taxes on the rich, previously an anathema to her party. (These won't be too extreme as otherwise they will both reduce tax take and see her dropping more support on the right than she will gain on the left).

Now there are two other major forces to overlay on this fundamental shift in the tectonic plates of our political system:

1. Brexit: Given that the outcome of this election is known (the only question is how big her majority will be) the challenge facing the Conservative campaign is how to frame the choice facing the voter to motivate people to bother doing so. Thus the mantra "Corbyn chaos or a strong leader to deliver the best possible Brexit deal". Brilliant.

It is not just the fear of what would happen if the other guy gets in (as it is important not to appear triumphalist and arrogant by taking the result as a given) but it also communicates a strong and motivating reason to give May the biggest possible mandate.

Now the luvvies in adland and the media may decry it as an empty slogan delivered by the "Maybot", but winning elections is not about winning a Cannes Lion. It is about getting your vote out while suppressing that of your opponent.

To deliver it in the minds of a mass audience requires an effective media weight that brands were able to last achieve in the 70s for the likes of "I'm a secret lemonade drinker".

Political parties do not have the luxury of being able to use TV advertising so using their leader and other key spokespeople to repeat their key message ad nauseum when they appear on TV is essential in today’s media world. Remember if you are reading this article you are not their audience.

The impact of the Liberals, who at least have a clear positioning as the only party that would repeal Brexit, is irrelevant as they lost most of their seats in 2015 in constituencies that voted for Brexit.

The party actually suffers a split personality as it has to fight on the right-hand side of the beach where the main opponent is Conservative and of the left when he or she is Labour. Thus it on a national level in effect cancels itself out.

They also suffer from having a leader who has the charisma and pulling power of a soggy tissue. They may win a handful of seats but they lost so comprehensively in 2015, and May is so far ahead today, that any talk of a bounce back is wishful thinking.

And what of the concept of a progressive alliance of anti-Brexit parties collaborating to oust Conservative MPs to "save the nation"? Well in most constituencies outside of London or Scotland people voted for Brexit. The other challenge is that these groups have the discipline and organisational capabilities of a Diane Abbott LBC interview.

So, taking the constituency of Stroud as an example, I thought these observations were quite telling. In 2015 the Conservatives won the seat from David Drew, a popular and long-standing Labour MP. It voted Remain and has a strong heritage of being at the heart of the Labour movement and quite "right-on".

Driving into the town last weekend the only election banners I could see were for the Greens. In the High Street I heard the sound of drums and saw a swirling EU flag and the massed banners of the local Labour party and unions, which was an impressive and stirring sight, with a press of people behind them.

As the march moved off the banners held by 20-30 people descended the High Street and the crowd behind them turned left to go into the Farmer’s Market.

The EU, Labour and Union supporters were all a well-meaning crowd but were notable by the absence of anyone under the age of 40 in their midst. So taking Stroud as a microcosm of the national picture we will see the Greens fielding a candidate who will split the Labour vote with former UKIPers voting Conservative.

The under-35s (the one group who favour Corbyn) will forget to get out of bed and the result will see the re-election of the Conservative incumbent, Neil Carmichael, with a bigger majority.

2. May versus Corbyn: The second major overlay to the shift in the tectonic plates of the Party landscape is the nature of the personal appeal of the two leaders. If you look at all elections in living memory, the party that had a lead on leader approval ratings and economic competence wins.

Relative standing now between May and Corbyn and they are at record levels – higher than both Blair and Thatcher in their heyday. These I believe are more important than all the other polls as they show who the UK voting public want collectively to be our next prime minister.

I said this at the last election: looking at the lead of Cameron over Miliband on these two attributes meant we would definitely get an outright Conservative majority when nearly everyone else was predicting a hung Parliament.

Look at the relative standing now between May and Corbyn and they are at record levels - higher than both Blair and Thatcher in their heyday. These I believe are more important than all the other polls as they show who the UK voting public want collectively to be our next prime minister.

And if you look at the outcome of all recent general elections to quote (no doubt to his annoyance) Paul Weller "what the public wants, the public gets."

All credit to Theresa May who played an absolute blinder to win the Conservative leadership contest (key to which was not to be disloyal to Cameron but not too active on the Remain campaign trail).

But even more impressive is how she has positioned herself to be respected, and, dare I say it, liked, by traditional Labour voters at a time when Corbyn's Islington sensibilities and anti-Britain pronouncements (Hammas, not singing national anthem, unwillingness to defend the country etc) have given lifelong Labour voters permission to vote Conservative.

Electorally these are the perfect double whammy. So in summary, Corbyn has vacated the beach to sell his ice creams to people who say they like them but won't be bothered to get up to do so even when he is standing next to them.

The Conservative Party liberated from the threat of UKIP on the right have been able to project their appeal into the left of the beach and the punters there see in Theresa May a flavour they like and will buy.

In fact I do not think we have ever seen such a dramatic change in the British electoral landscape since 1945. Therefore my prediction for 9 June is a majority in three figures for May.

Quite how large it will be will depend on the polls in the first week of June – not to see what the pollsters are forecasting but to apply our polling calibration technique to their data (in particular of the so-called undecideds), which has shown itself to be rather accurate in recent UK elections.

Michael Moszynski is the chief executive and founder of London Advertising. He ran the Conservative general election campaign in 2005, and a number of presidential campaigns across the globe.

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