From the outside, the Conservative Party may look like the Establishment. From the inside, this seems a travesty of the truth. Insofar as there’s an establishment at all, it leans to the Centre-Left. The universities, the teaching profession, the police, the state broadcaster, the judiciary, the commanding heights of the arts and culture, much of the civil service, the churches (though perhaps less so than in recent decades): what some would call the Deep State has either moved left over the last 30 years or so, or was more on the left to start with.
All of these institutions feel at home with the house that Blair and Brown built: the transfer of powers from Westminster to the EU, the courts and the devolved institutions.
The time will come very soon, in the delirious wake of the most astounding British election in our lifetimes, for the Conservative Party and the wider conservative movement to get back to the trinity that has near the heart of this site’s mission since Tim Montgomerie founded it: Message, Machine, Manifesto.
There will be a time to ask how the bulk of the Party’s Manifesto commitments will be delivered, given the new Government’s new majority.
There will be a time to probe whether the Tory Machine worked as well as some claim the result proves that it did. (In some ways, it clearly didn’t: VoteSource is, if readers don’t mind me putting it like this, crap.) Mark Wallace has begun the work.
And there will be a time to consider Message – how the Lynton Crosby conservatism that got David Cameron north of 35 per cent can be broadened and deepened to get the Party up to 40 per cent and beyond in 2020.
Indeed, readers of this site will have a chance to debate all this as soon as Monday – at the special conference being hosted by this site, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Business for Britain and the Institute for Economic Affairs.
However, none of this should be business for this morning. Instead, the Conservative Party and movement should begin to seize, right now, the once-in-a-generation opportunity that is now open to it.
To date, David Cameron has had the upside of a comfortable majority, but the downside of it being partly due to the Liberal Democrats. That deal – the Coalition – is dead. In the new Commons, he will have the downside of a smaller majority, but the unexpected upside of it being a Conservative one.
After all, it’s not just the Coalition that’s dead. Consider the Tory majorities in some of the seats we took off them. 15,491 in Taunton Deane. 9,147 in Eastleigh, for heaven’s sake. 8,173 in St Austell and Newquay. The smaller-scale wins in seats such as Yeovil, and Thornbury and Yate, should be bigger next time, now that their high-profile yellow MPs have gone. If their blue replacements utilise incumbency as effectively as much of the Conservative intake of 2010, they should be back in 2020.
Then take a look at the new UK electoral map. The Liberal Democrat seats are no more than a few specks of orange on it. In the Commons, MPs will no longer be part of government, nor even the substantial presence that they have been since 1997, but a shrivelled husk – with no more seats that the Democratic Unionists, who fight elections in one part of the United Kingdom only. In a single day, the LibDem Parliamentary Party has journeyed backwards in time from the days of Paddy Ashdown to those of Jeremy Thorpe. The Liberal Democrats may emerge to pine for the fjords. But for the moment, they are a dead parrot.
Now turn back to the map again. If the LibDems are a tiny flicker of orange, then Labour, south of Coventry, make scarcely more of an impact outside London and South Wales. There’s Exeter, Southampton Test, bits of Bristol, Oxford East, Hove, Cambridge and three ethnic minority-flavoured constituencies: Slough, and the two Luton seats (both strongly Pakistani-Kashmiri in flavour). And that’s about it.
In England, the great election-winning party of Tony Blair is not in much of a better position than it was in 1983. It took Labour the best part of 15 years after that to get back in the election-winning game. And in Scotland, its position is almost indescribably worse, as Ed Miliband packs his bags, than it was when Michael Foot was packing his. When Margaret Thatcher held office, Labour was a mighty force north of the border – challenging, with growing confidence and authority, Conservative legitimacy in Scotland. But there this morning, the Ozymandian figures of Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander lie shattered in the electoral dust. Labour has as many seats in Scotland as we, the Tories, who it mocked and derided for so long.
If the Liberal Democrats’ Westminster prospects are desperate, Labour’s are deeply problematic. North of the border, their fortresses have been sacked by the SNP. South of it, a few have fallen to the Conservatives (and more should come under pressure now, as the next generation of Andrea Jenkyns’s prepare for 2020) – and a lot more are now menaced from UKIP, or at least a part of it.
For although Blue UKIP made no breakthrough in the south, Red UKIP didn’t do at all badly in the north. Consider, more or less at random, Hull. In all three of its seats, UKIP came second. Post-Farage, it may fade. But if it flourishes, UKIP is in a good position to build up its position in local government across much of the urban north during the next five years.
That’s a big problem for the Conservatives. But it’s an even bigger one for Labour, which must now go back to the drawing board. This will keep it occupied for a while to come. We hope that Martin Freeman and Russell Brand will join the debate, and bring Labour all the luck in the years to come that they brought it on Thursday.
David Cameron’s majority is smaller than John Major’s was in 1992. But his strategic position is better – given the humbling of the LibDems, the competing pulls on Labour of its English and Scottish electoral bases, and UKIP’s need to get a new leader and into new shape. He has just pulled off the first Tory victory in over 20 years. It has left him the most successful Conservative leader since Thatcher, since his election-fighting record is now better than John Major’s. For the first time, he is a real winner. And he now has an unprecedented opportunity to turn the Tories into the natural party of government.
From today, his grip on patronage and appointments will be stronger. It took Downing Street the best part of two years, after 2010, to even start to loosen Labour’s hold on the quangos. There is now a stronger Conservative presence within them – as a quick look at the Charities Commission, the Big Lottery Fund and the British Library will confirm. He must make it stronger still.
Of bigger moment are the bigger prizes: boundary reform, a British Bill of Rights, a rebalancing of the party political numbers in the Lords, removing unjustified trade union privileges, tackling election fraud (the Conservative Manifesto says that a Tory Government will consider “insisting on proof of ID to vote”. It should call in Cllr Peter Golds as a special adviser.) The Prime Minister may also want to have a very close look at the Fixed Terms Parliament Act. He’s not a man minded to meddle with the structure of Whitehall. But he could do a lot worse than mull some of the ideas floated by Dominic Raab, such as merging some departments. After all, there is still a structural deficit to end and a surplus to gain.
He has made exactly the start that ConservativeHome has called for – no tricks, no surprises, careful Party handling – by re-appointing his Home Secretary, his Foreign Secretary and his Chancellor. That George Osborne has replaced William Hague as First Secretary of State is both confirmation that the Party is headed by a duomvirate and a sign that the Chancellor is now back in the Party leadership race. The promotion is deserved. With Cameron, Osborne was a big winner on Thursday. He is more alert to the political angles than anyone else at the top table. Now Downing Street needs a powerful Chief of Staff and a new Chief Whip. (Michael Gove’s many gifts are required in an outward-facing role.)
That we know there will be a leadership contest at all before 2010 is one of Cameron’s three big strategic problems going forward. The first is the damage that his announcement that he will not seek a third term has done to his authority in Whitehall. The second is Scotland: he needs to make it the federal offer that this site has been calling for since at least the ConservativeHome Manifesto. Last but not least, there is the handling of that EU referendum.
Finally, a lot is asked of Cameron. In the wake of this election, he is entitled in a new way to ask for something back. Many of his critics don’t give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s fair to say that this site doesn’t always do so, either – and rightly: we are ConservativeHome.com, not Conservatives.com. But now that he is back in Downing Street, the rules of the game should change, or at least be recalibrated. After all, David Cameron, Conservative leader, is now for the first time David Cameron, election winner. So if he should give his Party more leeway, it should give him some back in return, and then some.
For he needs all the help he can get. After all, he’s as surprised that he has a majority as everyone else.