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UK Conservative Hopefuls Lack Conviction on Policy

Kiran Stacey, Michael Peel and Matthew Kennard |Financial Times

David Cameron is struggling to convince a group of his own party election candidates of the merits of key Conservative policies.

Financial regulation, tax and climate change were the most controversial areas of policy for would-be Tory MPs, a Financial Times investigation found, with a number of candidates unconvinced by the party’s direction.

Cracking down on banks, a less-than-rapid abolition of the 50p income tax band and strictly limiting carbon emissions were the most unpopular policies.

The study looked at the backgrounds of 206 candidates in winnable seats, and asked for interviews with 106. Of those, 31 responded, 17 refused to speak about their political views and 58 did not reply.

Of those who answered the requests, only a handful unequivocally supported the idea that humans are causing climate change, while just five echoed the tough talk of George Osborne, shadow chancellor, on curbing bankers’ bonuses.

The findings highlighted the challenge Mr Cameron faces in convincing the grassroots to support the modernisation of the party.

Incoming MPs may be more rebellious than previous intakes because Mr Cameron’s promise to cut the size of the Commons by 10 per cent will mean boundary changes that could force some newly elected MPs to fight for reselection.

“These MPs are going to have a huge incentive to keep local voters happy rather than the whips,” Tim Montgomerie, editor of the Conservativehome activists’ website, said.

About a quarter of those the FT examined had held jobs in financial services or the City, and many of those were unhappy at the prospect of the government legislating in that area.

Twelve of those interviewed were uncomfortable with any government involvement in pay, while eight backed such action only at government-owned banks.

Only five echoed Mr Osborne’s outspoken approach and few supported a special tax on financial institutions.

“The last thing we want to do is drive people out of this industry who are going to create wealth over the next 10 years,” Andrew Bridgen, standing in North West Leicestershire, said.

There were signs that Mr Cameron will come under pressure to speed up the scrapping of the 50p top rate of income tax. Every candidate who answered the survey opposed the measure and most stressed that the Tories should be the party of low tax.

Several favoured a more tangible commitment to the abolition of the 50p rate than the current “aspiration”. Several wanted the tax abolished within the period of a parliament.

Many prospective MPs appeared unconvinced by the argument that humans were responsible for climate change. Few believed governments should legislate on the issue.