Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
As some normality is restored in the wake of the General Election result, there will inevitably be an inquest into how it was allowed to happen, despite the highest vote tally since 1992, and Labour coming a distant second.
With political journalists (especially former Chancellor, George Osborne) across the media having a wonderful time raking over the coals of what they initially termed the most boring election in a generation, the reasons are obvious, so I won’t labour the point – although Labour is one reason, despite Corbyn’s tax, tax and spend, spend agenda.
Whilst infuriating, the outcome is an opportunity; an opportunity to prove that the Conservatives do act in the best interests of ‘the many not the few’, by explaining that sound economic policies are the solution to inequalities, whereas multi-billion pound giveaways do exactly the opposite.
The Conservatives are pro-business because that creates jobs as well as tax revenue to fund public services. However, it was obvious from TV reports around the regions that many people are so disaffected because there are no jobs; a report from North Tyneside on Channel 4 made me want to weep. People interviewed had no hope, they were trapped in poverty, unskilled and with poor education, despite parts of the region growing in prosperity.
These are not ‘ordinary’ people, but real people, with real problems, frustrated and disengaged, their fate accepted by local authorities, and ignored by what they perceive as the Westminster elite. And it is not just in North Tyneside where whole communities feel the same resentments and hopelessness; whilst the brightest may find a way to escape and never return, the majority are left to struggle, their potential unfulfilled.
Reaching out to them can be difficult, especially when language is a barrier, but this is what many Conservative councillors are doing. Nevertheless, some MPs don’t understand the value of working with their local councillors, failing to recognise their unique insight and ability to share intelligence about local concerns. Had this happened with elements of the Conservative manifesto, it would never have seen the light of day.
I noticed, when telling on polling day, that the youth vote was turning out, with many nervously for the first time – and that must be good news for us all. I congratulated them, although it was obvious from their demeanour that they weren’t supporting Conservatives. Countless friends with children under 35 had already told me how Corbyn had inspired young people.
In short, we failed them with an unacceptable negativity which offered them nothing but debt (whilst penalising pensioners) and a narrow-mindedness which is a departure from this country’s historic bravery and open-hearted multi-culturalism which made our islands the most advanced democracy and the envy of the world for generations.
Instead of hope, we offered fear – fear of continuing austerity, when they wanted change. And fear of losing our strong links with our European friends, forged through two world wars and 40 years of economic revival
Consequently, we must provide a forum for them to engage and share their opinions and, yes, dictate policy. So why not reinvent the Young Conservatives, which brought young people together from the age of 16, for parties, to do charity work, meet politicians, go on visits, learn to communicate in a social and political environment? It was fun and, today, it is more important than ever to ensure our youth understand the implications arising from their decisions.
We should recognise that today’s young people are so clever with social media, they could invent strategies and messages to connect with their peers in a way that their ‘stuffy’ elders can’t. But, unlike Labour, we must have responsible policies for that positive message:
Firstly, I’ve thought for some time that it would make sense to pay the university fees for students wishing to pursue careers in industries where there is a shortage of graduates, whilst ensuring equality of opportunity (gender/demographic/ethnicity). Since students may drop out after the first year, grants would only start from the second year. Grants would be channelled through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) which would have to bid for funding by identifying which higher level skills are needed in their areas, working with businesses and universities to select students and secure practical support and (paid) work experience during the course and post-graduation.
A recent report suggested this offer could apply to science (including medicine/nursing), technology, engineering and mathematics degrees, meeting demand across our NHS and world-class organisations from artificial intelligence, to pharmaceuticals and biotech, as well as education.
Secondly, housing. There are already policies in place, and better mortgage offers, helping young people to purchase their own homes, but the Planning system needs to be revolutionised if we are ever to deliver the numbers required in the right places. It cannot be viable for the process to continue taking many years, during which developers are frustrated and prices rise. Local authorities need to get a grip, and be told to do so, with penalties for unnecessary delays.
In the meantime, we’re back to the Blair mantra: Education, Education, Education. Without it, there is no escape for the disadvantaged; one solution could be to incentivise appropriate businesses to develop partnerships with local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships in run-down areas to set up their operations alongside secondary schools and/or colleges to develop skills, in a series of pilots around the country. If linked to universities, delivering appropriate degree courses, students could move on to higher education and perhaps have their fees paid.
There are also opportunities to combine living accommodation with creative hubs, where young people can develop new businesses alongside universities, with mentors offering support.
Not everyone is a budding Einstein, so encouraging greater engagement in sport, incentivising private clubs and schools to provide packages for young people and families who could not otherwise afford membership fees. Everyone would benefit.
Finally, there needs to be a greater focus on helping the disabled, especially with access to travel and a whole range of facilities. Having been sacked from his Apprentices role in government, Robert Halfon MP should be created National Ambassador for the Disabled. As the recent terrorist attacks illustrate, anyone could suddenly find themselves with a disability, and they deserve a strong voice. Why not extend pensioners’ free, or discounted, travel to the disabled?
The Conservatives are not the Nasty Party. We care deeply about everyone, but we don’t articulate it often enough. Our message should be one of hope, not fear.