Chris Grayling is Leader of the House of Commons, and MP for Epsom and Ewell.
Last week marked the first anniversary of our achievement in securing a parliamentary majority for the first time since 1992. On Thursday we will wrap up the first parliamentary session since that victory, a session in which we have set about the task of delivering the manifesto that we were elected on.
Although the headlines are often focused on other things, we should be proud as a party of how much we have achieved in that first year of our time in Government by ourselves. It is the fulfilment of these manifesto pledges that brings about positive improvements in people’s lives.
This has been a parliamentary session that has seen us pass new powers to turn around failing schools. We have paved the way for the Northern Powerhouse and for devolution to communities around the country. We have passed the European Union Referendum Act. We have provided substantial new devolved powers to Scotland. We have paved the way for the National Living Wage. We have cut taxes for low and middle income earners. We have passed English votes for English laws. We have passed a Childcare Act that doubles the amount of free childcare each week. We have taken further important steps to consolidate peace in Northern Ireland.
We have also seen claimant count unemployment fall to its lowest level since the 1970s. When we hear our opponents attack us over our support for working people, it is worth remembering that there has never yet been a Labour Government which left office with unemployment lower than it was when they started. I am also proud that we are now living in a nation where we have more than half a million fewer children growing up in workless households than there were when we took office.
Last Thursday’s elections were almost unique in my adult political lifetime. Six years into Government, after a whole series of tough decisions taken since 2010, and we emerged with our local government base intact and a real step forward in Scotland for the first time in a quarter of a century. My memory of local elections for us in Government, and indeed for Labour when they were in office, are ones of relentless defeat for the governing party. This year Labour simply failed to make progress.
I think the reason for our success and their failure lies in one of the oldest rules of politics. Parties win elections by appealing to a broad church of voters, by showing that they are genuinely interested in governing in the interests of the whole country. So we are pressing ahead with the National Living Wage – and cutting taxes for those in the 40p tax bracket. We are providing extra childcare, alongside introducing English Votes for English Laws and providing the referendum on our membership of the EU.
By contrast Labour seems to have completely lost its way. A party led by Islington socialists, which wants more immigration and higher taxes, is alienating both its core vote and the New Labour supporting floating voters who once took Tony Blair to power.
In many of their heartlands, it’s clear that they are seen as no longer in touch with what their traditional supporters want. A year into our second term in office, it is quite extraordinary that they went into reverse in Scotland while we surged into second place in the Parliament in Edinburgh. It’s a tribute to Ruth Davidson and her team, but also a stark reminder of how far Labour has fallen that they were losing seats to us in an area which was once the foundation of their electoral fortunes.
It wasn’t just in Scotland. In Wales they lost ground, extraordinarily losing the Rhondda. My opposite number Chris Bryant will be praying that Leanne Wood doesn’t stand against him at the next General Election. If she does, he could be in real danger. Only in London did they perform as expected.
These were elections that an effective opposition could and should have won at a canter. It is a bonus to us that we face such an ineffective party at this moment in the electoral cycle, and that no one on their side seems able or willing to do anything about it.
But we cannot be complacent. As Tony Blair once said of us when we were going through tough times, we were only sleeping and we would return. The same is true of Labour.
So we need to keep reminding ourselves of that most important of lessons. Elections are won by parties with broad appeal. That’s why we won last year, and it’s why we can win again in 2020. A truly compassionate Conservative Party is one that is a tough act to beat at any time in our politics.