Before the local elections in May there was a pervading sense of a Conservative revival. Opinion polls were seemingly static with Labour polling no more than 12-points above the Tories and the death of the former premier Margaret Thatcher bringing about a sense of togetherness that party spin doctors had only dreamt about since the awkward realities of operating within the confounds of a coalition government had begun to bite.
But as is often the case in politics, events have turned this fledgling revival on its head. Open warfare around Britain’s continuing membership of the EU, gay marriage (with the Same Sex Couples Bill currently facing a wrecking ball motion concerning civil partnerships for heterosexual couples), and the upcoming spending review (with only seven departments at this stage agreeing with the Chancellor the extent of departmental budget cuts and number of ministers who are likely to fight moves to cut their departmental budgets further). All this set against a backdrop of the “swivel eyed loons” affair which saw Andrew Feldman (Tory Party Chairman) accused of making the remark aimed at certain Tory members bringing the Party to a state of disunity not seen since the early 1990’s. Cameron needs to repair this damage ASAP. My advice to DC given the challenging circumstances he faces would be;
- Focus on securing a Conservative majority. How does he go about winning an absolute majority, what does his strategy need to be? At the moment, there is a lack of coherent Conservative thought brought about from conflicting ideas within the Party. The continued strains between the more traditional right of the Party and the modernisers in the centre are the two main factions.Cameron needs to communicate better to his MPs and bring a wider range of thoughts to the table. There are a number of highly able MPs who may not fit the “Cameroon” ideal – now is the time to bring them into the fold. It takes more strength to hear the words “no” than to hear a resounding “yes”. In light of the likely July re-shuffle, my suggestions for promotion into the ranks of the Government would be; Jesse Norman, Margot James and Sajid Javid (currently Parliamentary Private Secretary to George Osborne).
- Address Britain’s EU membership once and for all – As we saw just a couple of weeks ago, disunity on Europe is still ever present with 116 Tory MPs voting against their own leaders Queens Speech. Although the Prime Minister claims to be “intensely relaxed” the Party is clearly unsettled and the image of disunity carries no favour with the voters. Cameron needs to grab Europe by the horns – this issue is not going away. Cameron needs to paint the picture that the voters and his MPs need to see. What would he want the “new EU” to look like, what powers does he want back, and what are the processes in place.The strategy of containment on Europe hasn’t worked; strategists at Number 10 would have seen the promise of an EU Referendum as being a silver bullet to counter UKIP, the opposite has been true. Areas of legislation such as employment law, health & safety legislation, and laws around fisheries and agriculture are examples of areas where a growing number of Conservative MPs want to see powers brought back to Westminster.
- Bring the Party back on side – As I stated earlier, the Party at large needs to be given a reason not to give in before 2015. Cameron needs to nullify the threat from UKIP, who could peel off disenchanted MPs as well as supporters. How does he need to go about this? Cameron needs to understand why his supporters are turning away and begin communicating truly Conservative policies which they want to see in 2015 under a Conservative majority. Relations between the grass roots of the Tory party and the leadership are dire. The main tract of the traditional party is dismayed at the views of what it sees as a metropolitan elite, disconnected and disapproving of the party base. Issues such as gay marriage and Europe are seen as indicative of an out of touch leadership. I have worked at a local level in the Conservative Party, the members are the life-blood of the party, membership numbers are now at around 150,000, and in 2003 numbers were around 300,000.In the age of 24-hour news, people can sometimes imagine that elections are won and lost on television debates or on the front page of The Sun – this is not the case. Elections are won on the doorsteps, and therefore volunteers win elections. Having worked myself at the local level of the Conservative Party on various by-elections and for the Boris Johnson Mayoral team in 2008, I know acutely the profound contribution members and volunteers make – without them the Party and democracy are weaker.