Edward Leigh is a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and is MP for Gainsborough
The people of Clacton have sent a warning shot across the bow of the Conservative Party, and party leaders would be foolish not to take this threat seriously. Of course many voters who turn to UKIP will return, but enough could stay to permanently threaten Conservative electoral prospects: we must get them back. Because UKIP was created by the failures of our leadership, they are the only ones whose actions can get our people back in the fold.
A whole host of errors conceived or approved of by Tory bigwigs has fostered the steady loss of votes to the Faragists: the deliberate policy of triangulation, the coalition with the Liberals, increased taxes on the middle classes, cuts to the armed forces, failed and wasteful green policies, failing to deliver the promised referendum on Lisbon, the massive increase in international aid spending, and controversial and revolutionary social policies such as same-sex civil marriage. All these actions have been pervaded by a constant tone of attacking the record of the oldest and most successful political party in the world as “the nasty party”.
Even those who want to model themselves after Tony Blair’s electoral success are clueless: Blair took great care not to infuriate his supporters. The same can’t be said of some in our party. It might help if the front bench was more reflective of the party: not a single male MP who voted for a referendum on Europe (against a three-line whip) has been given any promotion, and those right-wingers who have made it have been forced to stand on their heads for a lot of the time.
Conservatism of the traditional, pragmatic kind works. A focus on the economic betterment of all Britons would create prosperity for all and electoral success. But we know that a vote for UKIP is a vote to put Ed Miliband in Number 10, which is why the Clacton result is so threatening. It’s all rather sad because we’ve made so much progress on the economy, and that’s what matters.
We must move forward. Individual policies are not so important as setting the tone and a sense of direction. We must convince voters that we are a party seeking to create a low-tax, free, well-defended, independent state — and we need to let voters know we mean it for the long term, not just for election time.
The pledge for a referendum on the European Union is not enough. People think there will be a sham renegotiation and then, as with the Scottish referendum, the whole weight of the three-party establishment will keep us in. We need to set out our red lines clearly, and the most important of these is control of our own borders. There are plenty of allies on the continent who agree with us that the free movement of peoples only makes sense in similar economies. We must convince voters that we will help create a Europe based on trade and political cooperation, and nothing else.
New ideas for tax cuts are great, but do people believe them? They worry: “will they backtrack on these as they did on inheritance tax?” We need to give firm pledges based upon clearly stated timelines.
Does anyone who listens to Nick Clegg think the Coalition has any more life in it? For both our sakes, in order to reconnect with our supporters, we need to break up the Coalition. It would send another signal to our former voters that we mean it on protecting the armed forces, promoting marriage, and tackling waste in our country’s massive social and health bureaucracy: a big ask.
Every Conservative MP is desperate to stop Miliband getting into Number 10 – to once again open the immigration taps and lose control of the deficit. Let’s convince our people that voting Tory will give them a real Conservative government that intends to get down to business. Above all, let’s not insult the heartfelt Conservatives who were trying to give us a lesson in Clacton. Let’s convince them that the lesson is learned.