The 2017 General Election campaign will go down as one of the worst in the Conservative Party’s history. Starting out in April with a 22% lead in the polls and finishing the election in June just 2% ahead of Labour tells you everything you need to know.
Here I will set out the (non-exhaustive) major factors in the election which led to this, and also a blueprint for what the Conservative Party needs to do to win the next General Election.
For any analysis of where the Conservative Party went wrong in the 2017 General Election, all roads lead to the manifesto. Up until our manifesto was launched everything was going swimmingly. We were still buoyant in the opinion polls, Labour was continuing to look shambolic and knocking on doors was a delight. All Conservative voters were staunch and a significant number of Labour voters (many of whom said they had voted Labour all their life) said they were going to either vote Conservative or not vote at all.
The manifesto changed everything – particularly the plans which affected pensioners on paying for social care; and the changes to the winter fuel allowance and triple lock on pensions. Within hours of the launch, the change on the doorstep was palpable. People who had voted Conservative all their life now said they couldn’t vote for the Party this time. Voters felt they were being cynically taken for granted – they said they felt that the Conservative Party believed they would vote for anything just to avoid Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. They were not prepared to be treated so shabbily.
As political slogans go “Vote for us and we will make sure you are all worse off” is not the greatest one of all time nor one I would recommend. Yet that was exactly what we were offering to the electorate. Not so much “jam tomorrow” as “we have abolished jam forever”.
The same applied to public sector workers. Back in 2010 when the outgoing Labour Treasury Minister Liam Byrne left a note for his Conservative successor to say “Good luck – there is no money” people understood there was no alternative to austerity. However, after 7 years of having no pay rises, most public sector workers – not unreasonably – thought there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. We offered them nothing but more of the same – in effect telling them that the public sector pay cap would be in place until at least 2025. No wonder they decided that was an offer they could refuse.
Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, on the other hand, successfully tapped into this surge in anti-austerity feeling. No matter that his proposals were pie in the sky and a complete fantasy – people are not stupid and knew that was the case in their heart of hearts – but they felt he was at least articulating their frustrations.
U-turns on social care (and denying it was a U-turn) followed quickly by a refusal to take part in the TV Leaders’ debate went from us credibly claiming to offer strong and stable leadership to us being laughed at for claiming to offer strong and stable leadership. Not surprisingly the election result was a disaster – but it certainly came as no surprise to those of us who spent all day every day knocking on doors.
So where do we go from here? This is my blueprint for what the Conservative Party should do to restore its electoral fortunes and win a majority at the next General Election, whenever that may be.
1. Cut Overseas aid back to the amount spent in 2010. Spending more and more money on overseas aid when we need the money in the UK is not only idiotic – it is toxic with the voters.
2. Use the money from cutting overseas aid (the budget for which is now about £13bn – almost double what it was in 2010) to spend on social care, schools and the police/security services.
3. Deliver a clean clear Brexit – ie leaving the Single Market, ending free movement of people, no laws made in Brussels and no money handed over to the EU budget. Prioritise a free trade deal with the EU (and other countries around the world) as an alternative. If we do not deliver this clean clear Brexit we will never be trusted by the British public again. This is not only our route to electoral success, failure to deliver it would provide an existential threat to the Conservative Party.
4. Always reward and never penalise savers and those who have done the right things all through their lives. All policies must pass that test. This was why the policies for pensioners was so toxic – many had done the right thing all their life and were fed up of being penalised for that and picking up the tab for those who hadn’t. The Conservative Party should always stand up for those who have always worked hard and saved hard.
5. Abolish university tuition fees and reduce the number of people going to university. One of Jeremy Corbyn’s most successful – and most unaffordable – fantasy land election bribes was to promise to abolish all tuition fees and to write off all outstanding student debt. It seems to have been forgotten that Labour introduced tuition fees – and the Conservative Party voted against them! Tuition fees were introduced to increase the numbers going to university. I feel that too many people are put on the education conveyer belt to university and so I think we should reduce the numbers who go to university but ensure their tuition fees are fully paid. This would win back support for the Conservative Party from many young people and also be affordable.
6. Give a pay rise to public sector workers. A seven year effective pay freeze means public sector workers have done their bit to help deal with the deficit, and they now deserve a pay rise.
I believe this blueprint will win the support the Conservative Party needs at the next general election to form a majority government.
As I have been described many times as the Tory equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn, maybe I should run for the leadership of the Conservative Party when such a contest takes place to seek an endorsement for these plan if nobody else will adopt it.
- Philip Davies is the MP for Shipley