Boris Johnson. File
Bim Afolami, The Independent
I cannot recall an election where politicians have not said it was the most important in a generation. We all remember the slogans — “Last chance to save the pound” from William Hague in 2001, or “Last chance to save the NHS” from every single Labour campaign since 1950.
Yet this time genuinely feels different. Conservatives face the combined threat of no Brexit and a neo-Marxist Corbyn government. For hardcore Remainers, this is the last chance to stop the UK leaving the EU. For the pro-Corbyn diehards, this campaign is the last heave for the hard left to show they can persuade the country of a utopian socialist future. A lot is at stake.
If the Conservative Party wins a majority, it will have to decide how to govern. Philosophically, the party is in a fascinating place, with a rather intimidating political backdrop. If successful on 12 December, we will have been in power for almost 10 years, having gradually increased our seats after a fourth election victory in a row, and having done so by subtly changing our political coalition. Overall, we would have captured traditional Labour heartlands in the North and Midlands whilst having suffered somewhat in the South and in London.
That political fact has been observed by many, but fewer have tried to ascertain what it means for our policies. Seats like mine, Hitchin and Harpenden, are what many regard as the Conservative heartland. Many of my constituents would regard themselves as both economically and socially liberal. However, in seats in Middlesbrough or Mansfield the party has acquired a different type of voter. This voter tends to be in favour of higher spending on public services, whilst often being culturally more conservative on questions of immigration, social issues, or welfare.
Herein lies the conundrum — is there is a common philosophical thread between the Conservative voters in the type of seats that I have described?I believe there can be. What unites both parts of the Conservative Party after Brexit is a bold agenda that I believe the prime minister has the vision to develop into a governing narrative.
At the 2017 election, I was struck by how often my constituents pleaded for more school spending, bemoaned the lack of police on the streets, and desperately wanted more support for our NHS — they feared the public realm was fraying and needed financial support.
During this 2019 campaign I am noticing a real difference — people can see that these concerns are being addressed through our clear spending commitments. At the same time, when speaking to my colleagues in more traditional Labour seats, it might surprise many to know that their voters’ concerns about the Labour Party are not just cultural and to do with the unpopularity of Corbyn, but are rooted in a sense that a low tax, pro-business and pro-growth agenda, underpinned with constantly improving education, helps them and their communities. The unembarrassed pro-capitalist vigour of the prime minister helps make this core argument.
Boris Johnson is somebody who lets all flowers bloom when it comes to policy ideas. MPs and ministers feel that their concerns and ideas are actually fed in and listened to. There is a sense that he wants to hear big ideas about big things, and has the intellectual confidence to allow his ministers to take the lead.
If we win the election, the job for the party now is to take the major challenges of our time — climate change, automation, social care, the over-complicated tax system — and knit that into a narrative that can unite both wings of our electoral coalition and the country as a whole. Over to you, prime minister.
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