Adam Afriyie is the MP for Windsor.
Note on Saturday May 24 at 20.00: Mr Afriyie believes that the headline that we put on this article misrepresents its contents. We believe that the headline is a fair representation of them. Readers must make up their own minds.
Today, I’m worried but optimistic. Early indications suggest an unsettling result for the Conservatives following Thursday’s elections. The outcome will be deeply disappointing for all those who spent so much time and energy campaigning for the Party. It was great to be on the doorsteps with our activists and I’m grateful to them for knocking on doors, delivering leaflets and working so hard.
Sadly, we must now accept that many of our hard-working councillors have lost their seats. These councillors have consistently cut council tax so that families can keep more of their money while improving local services. In Hammersmith and Fulham, for example, it has fallen by 17 per cent since 2007, saving the average family household £667. It is worrying that much of this good work will be reversed, and people will be worse off as a result.
We must also accept that, on Sunday, many of our MEPs’ achievements are likely to go unrewarded. They helped to fight for important reforms in Europe, such as a historic cut in the EU budget, and I fear Britain’s voice in Europe will be weaker without them.
As a result of the disconnect between Westminster and the public, many of our MEPs and local councillors have been swept out of office through no fault of their own. As Conservatives, we must identify and acknowledge the causes of voters’ alienation before we can begin to address the challenge for 2015. Without fear or favour, we must calmly ask the difficult questions – such as why do conservative people feel unable to support the Conservative Party; why do non-white voters, who share our values, not rally in support; and what must we do to regenerate membership and enthusiasm within the Party?
The great news is that the conservative family – with a small ‘c’ – is strong and healthy. The number and type of people who hold small-c conservative values is growing. And our traditional policies appeal to a broad church of wide-ranging and overlapping groups including entrepreneurs, black and Asian Brits, people of faith, Eurosceptics and young people.
The majority of non-white British citizens recognise the enduring value of a good education, enterprise, the family and social mobility, and Ipsos Mori found that Britain’s young people were possibly the most conservative generation of recent history.
You only have to look at the polls to see how well our conservative family is doing. If you add up the number of people who intend to vote Conservative and UKIP in 2015, you will find they easily make up the vast majority. If non-white voters were to merely cast their votes evenly between the parties then we’d add another six to eight per cent immediately. If we can unify those conservatives with all their energy, we can deliver a strong Conservative majority in 2015; a majority like those Thatcher commanded in the 1980s – we could send a groundswell through the country.
The Westminster establishment
But unfortunately the Westminster party establishment does not currently command the required amount of trust or respect from the general population to unite them behind the party; indeed many of our core supporters feel alienated and disillusioned.
People feel disconnected from the privileged Westminster establishment. It feels like politicians don’t listen – or care – about their real fears; politicians seem uncomfortable talking about issues such as immigration, human rights and the lack of control caused by our membership of the EU. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been punished at the ballot box like the other mainstream parties.
Thankfully, there is a solution: politicians need to come down from their ivory towers and talk to real people – and I mean really talk to them, and really listen to them. Not engage in some form of artificial listening PR stunt, but a genuine attempt to sense what people are feeling and hear what they’re saying.
It is time to overcome the ridiculous notion that listening to public opinion is somehow succumbing to mob rule; that popular policies are somehow always bad, stupid or, at worse, worthy of name-calling. That’s the kind of patronising political elitism that is at the heart of the problem in my view. All policies should be judged on their own merit.
A case in point was the call for an EU referendum in 2014, backed by two thirds of the public, which was rejected out of hand by the political establishment.
Reconnecting with our grassroots
In addition, the Conservative Parliamentary Party needs to reconnect with its core Conservative voters. In Government, the Conservative-led Coalition has done a laudable job putting the country back on a sound economic footing, and this achievement must not be understated. But, at the same time, many feel that the Conservatives have drifted away from their small-c conservative roots. I feel that too.
Many people voted Conservative because they wanted smaller government, but these people now feel that they’ve been duped. The Coalition Government is spending more and more money on industrial projects and overseas aid without first trying to find a private sector alternative, and they’re digging their claws deeper and deeper into people’s personal lives and faith. Of course, the Conservatives in government have had their hands tied by the LibDems, but this doesn’t stop the way people feel.
The party establishment must reconnect with these supporters. And this will probably mean a swallowing of pride with a sincere apology for the way gay marriage was introduced and, perhaps, an admission that HS2 is not the right policy and immigration is not under control. Then I’m hopeful we’ll stand a better chance of winning people’s trust, especially if we have some undeniably conservative policies in our manifesto.
Overall I’m optimistic about the future because the conservative family is in good health. But we must now be honest with ourselves, our voters and our supporters because restoring trust is the only way we can possibly deliver a bright conservative future for Britain. By welcoming people who have chosen to vote UKIP into the party, I believe we can have a conservative family re-union before 2015.