Brexit and Hope are the tools we Tories need to crush Jeremy Corbyn
CONSERVATIVE MP FOR LICHFIELD AND FORMER VICE-CHAIRMAN, CAMPAIGNING
The political narrative has been turned on its head over the last month. At the first Prime Minister?s Questions since the election, it wasn?t the Conservatives who cheered Jeremy Corbyn as he entered the Chamber. There was an air of despair and ?how could this have happened?? that hovered over many Conservative MPs like a thunder cloud. Some had even likened the election to when Major?s Government saw the pound fall out of the ERM and the party slid inevitably down to its defeat at the hands of Tony Blair in 1997 in the biggest political landslide since 1906.
Demographics and the ongoing Brexit divide do indeed present a perilous threat to my Party. However, portents of an existential crisis are overblown if the Conservative Party snaps out of its moroseness. We can emerge from the next election in triumph, and throw Corbynism back into the dustbin of history.
But how? The average Conservative voter is getting older. According to a YouGov analysis, the age at which a voter is more likely to have voted Conservative than Labour is now 47, up from 34 before the election. Among 18-30 year olds, Labour won over 60% of the vote, while the Conservatives won a large majority of the over 60 vote.
Britain has not had a left-wing Labour government since the 1960s or, arguably, the 1970s. To many, the memory of chaos wrought by socialism and untrammelled trade union power has faded, while the young have no memories of those troubled times at all. They have no reason to fear a hard-left government or Jeremy Corbyn?s manifesto commitment to reverse all the trade union legislation introduced by Thatcher and Blair.
So like a deadly flu pandemic, is the scourge of socialism to return every few decades before waning for another generation as people gain an immunity to it? Is it inevitable that Britain must endure a dose of hard-left government sooner or later?
It is not necessarily so. But Brexit and Hope are the keys for the Conservative Party combined with the internal strife within Corbyn?s Labour.
On Thursday night as the whole Conservative Parliamentary Party unified in purpose with a clear Brexit plan and voted for the Queen?s Speech, our tails were up again! The contrast with Labour could not have been more vivid. 49 Labour MPs rebelled and three shadow ministers were instantly dismissed amidst Tom Watson, Labour?s Deputy Leader, accusing former shadow cabinet colleagues of ?dividing the Party?.
Corbyn’s Labour is a paper tiger. Their divisions go far deeper than those of the Conservative Party and are not just confined to Europe. Their present fragility is there for all to see who care to look.
Of course, the potential for division in the Conservative Party exists too, but most Tory MPs now recognise that if the government continues to deliver a clean Brexit ? a clean break from the EU and its Customs Union ? and one which will give us frictionless access to the Single Market and growing prosperity, the Conservative Party?s fortunes will be reversed and the threat of a revived UKIP eliminated. After Brexit, markets will be reassured as uncertainty evaporates, the pound will strengthen reducing inflation; and the deed will be done. The young will no longer be motivated to vote Labour as a misguided proxy to Remain in the EU.
When I coordinated our by-election campaigns, I told David Cameron after we lost the Eastleigh by-election in 2013 that the Conservatives could never win an overall majority while UKIP shaved off 4% or more of the Tory vote in marginal seats. In 2015, the promise of a referendum averted that and the subsequent referendum result combined with the triggering of Article 50 saw the collapse of UKIP in 2017. We won?t dash all that now.
The recent election results show a clear trend. Constituencies that voted Leave tended to see swings to the Conservatives, such as Torbay, Mansfield and my own seat of Lichfield which voted 59% for Leave and my share of the vote rose from 55% to almost 64% and my majority (once 238) rose with it. Meanwhile, Remain-voting constituencies generally swung towards Labour, in seats like Kensington, Bristol North West and the former Tory stronghold of Canterbury.
The vast majority of Remainers are pragmatists who simply believe that leaving the EU will be bad for the UK. If we can prove them wrong, there’s no reason why the Conservatives won?t win them back. According to YouGov, only 21% of Brits want to see the referendum result overturned or ignored.
So over the coming years it will be our exit from the EU that defines British politics for another generation.
A poorly-executed Brexit cutting us off from Europe would antagonise large numbers of Remainers and many others as the economy suffers, while most Leavers would be unhappy with "a soft Remain", where Britain continues in the Single Market with no control over immigration, trade agreements, or our laws.
But there is one other vital ingredient the Conservative Party needs to include to turn the political tide: Hope. The Conservatives 2017 manifesto made the Book of Revelation seem like a Stephen Fry novel in comparison.
We need to provide hope for all parts of society. Hope for the young who want to get onto the housing ladder and secure decent jobs. Hope for those on lower and middle incomes who are striving to get on in life. And hope for the elderly, who want to retire in dignity and comfort.
And yes: as public sector pay is outstripped by the private sector and eroded by inflation caused by the fall in the pound, there needs to be a rethink about that – even though for every 1% pay rise, it costs the economy an addition ?1.8 billion.
A General Election called after a clean and successful Brexit, not before, with an expanding economy and hopeful future will defeat Corbynism for yet another generation to come.