Jackie Doyle-Price is the MP for Thurrock.
As the MP for Thurrock, a tiny urban unitary authority surrounded on three sides by London and the counties of Essex and Kent, I am used to having to shout up on behalf of my constituents when others would happily push us around. We are constantly faced with others forcing their rubbish on us. Literally – London’s rubbish comes down to Mucking by barge. Whether it is river crossings, because Boris wont take on the boroughs to build the Thames Gateway Bridge, or airports, because Boris wont accept that Heathrow is our hub airport, I am constantly fighting the corner of my constituents against the governance of our over-mighty capital city.
So I have got used to having to deal with my noisy next door neighbour. His interventions can be tiresome, but he is part of the Conservative family and, as Mayor of London, he has been a powerful advocate for our capital city – so I grin and bear it when he is unhelpful.
But the obsession with Boris on the part of Conservative commentators is becoming destabilising to our party. We have a year to go before a general election. Some of us are determined to win a majority to save this country from a Labour Government that would finish the job they started of bankrupting our country. So why when we have such an important task are some people self-indulgently engaging in leadership speculation and obsessing about Boris’s potential role in it? At the risk of becoming part of the problem rather than the solution, I would like to share some observations.
The first thing to note is that the leadership of the Party is not a bauble to be passed around the old boys network. The Party will decide who the next leader is. Not Stanley Johnson and not the media commentariat who are obsessed about whether Boris is about to return to the House of Commons or not. Out there nobody cares about the ambitions of Boris Johnson. They care about whether they can put food on the table and still be able to afford to take the kids away on a decent holiday.
And that is the point. The biggest impediment that this Party has when trying to secure a majority at the next election is that on one key question we are constantly perform badly. That is on the issue of whether the Party is in touch with ordinary people. It is the reason we did not get beyond 36 per cent of the poll in 2010. But while people are worrying about whether they are keeping their jobs, whether they will be able to afford the electricity bill and how much it costs to fill the car these days, our commentariat is talking about Boris. We need to stop talking about ourselves and talk about the things that really matter to people. Otherwise we will be seen as out of touch, and Labour’s message will resonate.
There is no doubt that Boris has an appeal. It is an appeal to the metropolitan elite that likes to write about him. It is an appeal that doesn’t really travel beyond the M25. While the metropolitan elite likes to show contempt for authority, outside the M25 we like to respect it. In essence, he is the right man for the right job where he is.
Outside the M25 we don’t expect our leaders to be tieless or irreverent, look scruffy or travel cattle class. We want to respect our leaders. For those of us who are aspirational, we want to be able to travel club, wear good clothes and have a nice car. These are the people we need to win over to win that elusive majority. We risk undermining our appeal to those people if we constantly run after the agenda the media sets us instead of setting our own.
So if we really want to reach out to those voters in the North and Midlands who happily voted for Margaret Thatcher and John Major, then it is time we got serious. Let’s forget about personalities and focus on getting the message out that if you work hard and do the right thing the Conservatives are on your side. That is the winning formula. If we are are serious about winning the next election it is time to get real and focus on what really matters.