Tory Cabinet ministers ordered to attend Mass to appeal to Roman Catholic voters
George Galloway’s victory in the Bradford West by-election has convinced Conservative high command that they need to do more to reach religious minority voters. Ministers and MPs are being quietly told that they need to ‘show their faces’ regularly on Holy Days of Obligation and Christian festivals over the next three years, rather than simply turning up at election time.
The Tories are set to copy a strategy, pioneered by the Conservative Party in Canada, where ministers are expected to report which Church events they have attended each month.
David Cameron’s polling guru Andrew Cooper has identified more than 30 constituencies with large Roman Catholic populations which need to be won in order to secure a Tory majority in 2015. Mr Cooper has told ministers that polling data shows that while Roman Catholic voters most closely associated themselves with Conservative values like the importance of family and law order, they still vote Labour by a majority of 70 to 30.
A senior source said: "The research found that while they shared our values we have a real brand problem with Roman Catholic voters and that was something that needed to be addressed if we are going to stand a serious chance of winning in 2015. We have taken the view in the past that we don’t need to show our faces and it’s enough to invite the Pope over for a big jolly or to go and talk to cardinals and priests and they can deliver the votes. But if you look at the 2010 election you can clearly see that didn’t work. If you analyse the result from seats like Liverpool - which we should have won on the national swing - it shows that our failure to engage with Roman Catholic voters was crucial in our failure to win."
In 2005, only 36 per cent of the population voted Labour, but that rose to 53 per cent amongst the five million Roman Catholics who decided to vote. One poll indicated that 72 per cent would vote Conservative as a result of Labour's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. But, in the event, they did not. And so the Conservative Party is obliging its MPs to make frequent appearances at Roman Catholic celebrations and events across the country, and they are expected to report which events they have attended each month.
The new strategy has the enthusiastic backing of the Conservative joint chairman Baroness Warsi who recently visited the Pope and wants the party to adopt a more proactive approach to winning Roman Catholic voters. She said last night: ‘If we want to win a majority at a General Election, we need the support of everyone who shares our values - whatever their background. But at the moment, there is often a big mismatch between the ideals and aspirations of Roman Catholic voters and the party they vote for. We need to learn from centre-right Christian Democratic parties across the EU how to attract voters who share our values but haven’t traditionally voted Conservative. And we need to go out and persuade those voters that a Conservative government is the best way of fulfilling their aspirations for themselves, their families and their communities."
O, hang on. His Grace may have got this slighlty wrong (again: it's becoming a chronic failing). 'Tokenism and ignorance', indeed. He apologises for any confusion he may have caused.