It turns out that I am a shy Tory. It has taken me a while to come out but at least I can console myself with the thought that - according to the pollsters - I am wildly on trend. Shy Tories do not tend to find themselves at the cutting edge of culture - it has been a while since chinos and Blue Harbour shirts featured in Dazed. But it seems there were so many of us that had we formed a party we might have pushed Ukip into fourth place. I was thinking of forming a support group but, of course, we are all too embarrassed to turn up.
Not only am I a shy Tory but it seems I am so shy that I had not even admitted it to myself. I went out to the polling station expecting to vote for someone else. Half an hour earlier, I had believed myself to be a confident Liberal Democrat. I knew this version of Labour was not for me but I felt detached from a Conservative party that seemed too full of well-heeled men unmoved by the plight of the less fortunate and itching to pull Britain out of the EU. The Lib Dems had stepped up in 2010 and I did not want to see them eviscerated.
So I set out expecting to vote one way, only to discover that I was one of those mythical people who changes his mind in the privacy of the polling booth. Well, actually I was one of those people who changes his mind in the privacy of his VW; we are an entirely different breed of switchers. We look ourselves squarely in the rear-view mirror and suddenly find a temporary Old Etonian staring back. It is one of those surprising perks they don't tell you about when you purchase a Passat. The VW, with cruise control, anti-lock brakes and a heated rear windscreen of political thought. I don't know if other cars offer similar features, though I did hear talk of a BMW with Votechecker.
In any case, this sudden change was disconcerting. I have never previously entered an election in doubt. I may be a floating voter but I have always been a conviction floating voter. I am good at it, too. The country has endorsed my decision for over two decades. I am the Paul the Octopus of general elections. But this time there was no outcome that filled me with any pleasure. I suppose I wanted a return of the coalition but this was something for which one could only hope, not vote.
The Conservatives' Australian campaign guru, Lynton Crosby, long maintained there would come a moment when voters would suddenly reach that state of blue nirvana. All I can say is that it was a damn close-run thing in my case and I wonder if the pollsters missed it because it really did not happen for many of us until the last. Something came over us - was it the invisible hand on the ballot paper? Or maybe we subconsciously heard the Aussie in our heads, like Alec Guinness in Star Wars, telling us that "these aren't the politicians you are looking for".
In my case, it was not the preposterous Ed Stone, the vile personal attacks or any sense of personal gain. Sadly, I lack a mansion to tax, have never claimed non-domicile status and do not employ anyone on a zero-hours contract. Perhaps it was the thought of an education policy set by men in thrall to the teaching unions; or Ed Miliband's rejection of the New Labour ethos. But suddenly came the clarity that one result was much worse than the other; that it was, in the end, a binary choice and that the key to returning the coalition was not maximising the Lib Dem vote but maximising the Tory vote.
So were those "shy Tories" so shy that, like me, they were not so much deceiving the pollsters as deceiving themselves? No doubt some always knew they would vote Conservative but were not prepared to discuss it with others. But I suspect many more were people who do not think of themselves as Conservative and do not particularly want to vote Tory.
This is not a secret clique maliciously hiding its intent from the hard-working family of pollsters. A better phrase than shy Tories might be reluctant Tories. We sat there till the end waiting to be convinced there was a better option - but none arrived.
[email protected]; Twitter: @robertshrimsley
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