Nicky Morgan is a former Education Secretary, and is MP for Loughborough.
“You’re all the same!” many voters objected during the 2005 and 2010 elections. “We need more clear blue water between the Conservatives and Labour,” cried others during the past decade.
Well, fear not: now there is plenty to differentiate the Conservative Party from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s socialists. However, some of the main points of differentiation are not going to inspire the country: a muddle over public sector pay; money for Northern Ireland, local and national government not understanding quickly enough the totemic nature of the Grenfell Tower disaster. And, worse, an Opposition which acts as if it had actually won the general election, and a party in government that, frankly, currently feels as flat as a pancake.
Enough! The Conservative Party is in Government; we won all the votes on the Queen’s Speech, which gives us a programme for the next two sessions of Parliament, and “living within our means” is the right alternative to unrestricted state spending which the next generation would then have to pay for.
I said in the Commons last week that I am proud to be a one-nation Conservative. To me, this means pursuing policies that work for the whole nation, for people of all ages, all backgrounds and all educational experiences, including those working in the public sector.
Our election campaign seemed to forget that we needed to give people positive reasons to vote for us by putting forward policies that work for them: for support with childcare; world-class education and healthcare; pensions that people can live on; help to own your first home; support for entrepreneurs. So we now need to use our time in government to meet two objectives.
First, we need to understand what people are looking for from their government. We need to develop policy ideas which respond to their demands, and make sure that people know about our offer to them. The Prime Minister must ensure her whole Cabinet and ministerial team is engaged in this. The absence of a team around her during the election campaign was a big mistake. We have good communicators and talented individuals in the ministerial team – and Downing Street must use them.
And the whole Party – inside Parliament and outside – must be asked to play our part in helping to communicate this positive vision. People want to share good news with their friends and family; not negative partisan people-bashing.
Second, we have to take apart, piece by piece, the socialist vision offered by Corbyn and McDonnell. Everything they say, every disingenuous statement, everything put forward as fact which is really fiction has to be rebutted. CCHQ should be investing in their rebuttal unit as an urgent priority. Special Advisers in each department should be asked to help their Ministers knock back every falsehood put forward by the Opposition front bench and their supporters.
One of the biggest lessons from the last six months must surely be that the NUT and ‘school cuts’ campaigners were allowed to go unchallenged for far too long. The only way to put an end to something like the ‘school cuts’ campaign was to knock it back hard and repeatedly at the start before it gained traction. I am told that Ministers wanted to get out on the airwaves to do this, but were not allowed to do so.
Finally, we need to expose the socialist campaigners for the nastiness they are bringing to our politics. My colleague, Sheryll Murray, was absolutely right to do so during Prime Minister’s Questions last week. I’ve written previously for Conservative Home about the misogyny and anti-semitism that exists within the Labour Party. I refuse to believe the British public would vote for this, but they need to be reminded that the Corbyn of Glastonbury is the same man who had to appeal to his supporters in 2015 to “cut out the personal attacks. The cyberbullying. And especially the misogynistic abuse online”.
The Conservative Party can come back from our 2017 election near-miss. Indeed, we may in time reflect that it was a necessary wake-up call. But we will not get back on the front foot if any one, from the top of our Party to dedicated activists on the ground, think that it can be business as usual.