Chris Kelly is the Member of Parliament for Dudley South.
Tim’s story on this website on Wednesday about the 1922 Committee meeting in the Commons that evening has made public a vigorous debate that has been taking place amongst Conservative MPs about the direction of the Government. The debate has been going on since long before the setbacks we suffered in the local elections.
It is right that such a debate happens, and the 1922 Committee is the right forum for that debate to take place. The 1922 Committee’s central function is to allow the Parliamentary Party to feedback its views to the leadership, in the privacy of a closed meeting.
The Parliamentary Party is a very broad church, and therefore it is obvious that a broad range of views will be presented at each meeting. I disagree with what is said as often as I agree with what is said during 1922 Committee meetings. I hope, though, that I listen to opinions with which I disagree with respect. For what it’s worth, I think it is vital that colleagues listen to each other with the same basic courtesy that we’d expect of others when we speak. The Parliamentary Party has some strong characters, representing all shades of opinion in the Party, who aren’t afraid of expressing their thoughts — that’s a good thing and I hope it continues. We are all on the same team, though, with the same goal — to govern well in coalition with the Lib Dems until 2015, enact policies which get the economy moving again and ensure the country recovers from the dreadful mess left to us by Labour, and then to win an outright majority and form a Conservative government in 2015.
The debate about how the current Government should react to recent setbacks has been caricatured as being a choice between either “a lurch to the right” or “everything is fine, no need to change anything”. My own views on how we should react are grounded very much in what happened in my own constituency of Dudley South. The Conservatives lost control of Dudley Council to the Labour Party after 9 years during which the Council was turned around from a failing, two star authority to a well-run, four star authority. On 3rd May we lost in wards across the Borough we had won comfortably in May 2010 and on the first anniversary of the coalition in May 2011. As I told readers of the Dudley Chronicle last week, there are many reasons why we lost but unhappiness with the Government over a series of self-inflicted wounds during the past two months was undoubtedly a factor.
It is also undoubtedly the case, though, that we are losing supporters on our ‘right flank’ to UKIP. In 2011, we took a seat in the Kingswinford North and Wall Heath ward from the Lib Dems with a majority of 296. UKIP polled 272 votes. This year we lost the ward to Labour by 110 votes, whilst UKIP polled 560. In the Wordsley ward in 2011 we won by 253 and UKIP did not stand. This year we lost by 132 whilst UKIP polled 412 votes. My Conservative colleagues in the Borough of Dudley, Margot James MP and James Morris MP, could tell similar stories about wards in their constituencies. Brandon Lewis MP has written about the impact of UKIP in his own constituency of Great Yarmouth. I’m certain there are colleagues from all over the country who have similar tales to tell. The fact that in wards where they fielded candidates in England and Wales, UKIP polled an average of 13% attests to this.
We clearly need to debate how (if at all) we should react to this. But I think it is vital that, regardless of how we think we should react to it, we all acknowledge the fact that we are losing people who voted Conservative in 2010 to UKIP. If this trend continues in 2015 there is a real danger we will lose marginal parliamentary seats to Labour because too many of our supporters from 2010 turn to UKIP.
Regardless of whether you think we need wholesale policy changes or not, one thing we could do more of is stressing the conservative achievements this Government has introduced since 2010. We have reduced corporation tax for businesses meaning more profits can be ploughed into investments and jobs. The Prime Minister has vetoed an EU Treaty which would have damaged Britain’s national interests (leading to a significant poll bounce). We have introduced an immigration cap. We are toughening the rules on welfare, to make work pay. We are restoring discipline and academic rigour to our schools. These are all policies not just our natural supporters, but the public in general support. We should all be shouting about them more.
This Government has a central mission — to fix the public finances and get the economy growing again. The public still supports the Government in carrying out this vital work, as does the whole Parliamentary Party. It is crucial that we all work together to help David Cameron and his Government in achieving that mission.
The Parliamentary Party also understands that we are in coalition and that compromises must be made with the Liberal Democrats. But we must also keep our eye on the prize of a Conservative Government in 2015 and be mindful of the steps we need to take to get there. One of those steps is starting the work now on ensuring that all conservatives vote Conservative in 2015.