John Higginson is the head of corporate communications for political consultants ICG and the former political editor of Metro.
A photograph of David Cameron with a proud looking girl hangs on the wall of the Ten Thousand Hands Cafe in Ladywell Fields, in South East London. The cafe is set up in remembrance of school boy Jimmy Mizen who was murdered, in 2008, the day after his 16th birthday by a local teenager with a string of convictions to his name. It is run by the Jimmy Mizen Foundation which was set up by Jimmy’s family to ‘build a legacy of peace by creating meaningful, purposeful and real opportunities for young people to be safer’.
The photograph is the only one on the wall with a politician. This would be unremarkable in most places. A photograph with the Prime Minister is after all one to frame and put up on the wall for all to see. But the Ten Thousand Hands Cafe is just 100 yards from Lewisham Hospital, which was the 2012 lightning rod of ’Tory cuts’ when parts of its maternity ward were set to close down. Jeremy Hunt later reversed the decision in the face of huge local opposition led by in part by Labour.
The local constituency is Lewisham Deptford, Labour’s 25th safest seat. Bim Afolami, the Conservative candidate, fought a worthy campaign increasing the Tory vote share by 1.4 per cent to 14.9 per cent. He secured 7,056 votes – the highest vote share and number of votes for the Conservatives in the seat since 1992. However, Vicki Foxcroft, his Labour opponent, picked up 28,572 votes (60 per cent) despite standing for the first time.
When I was out campaigning with Bim just two weekends before the election the local bookmaker was willing to give us odds of 100-1 that he would win. We didn’t take the bet.
So to hang a photograph of the Conservative leader on the wall of a café in this area would seem to be bad business sense at the very least – if it were not for the message which transcends politics. While David Cameron’s Big Society idea was sneered at by members of the commentariat the message is one which got through to places the party otherwise struggles to reach such as charities, community groups and urban areas with high levels of poverty.To be a true one-nation party the Conservatives must not shy away from areas of Britain that have traditionally rejected it such as parts of our metropolises, Northern England, Scotland and Wales.
The term ‘Shy Tory’ was first coined by pollsters back in 1992 to describe those Conservatives too embarrassed to admit to pollsters that they were voting Conservative. This was in part due to the popular criticism that people vote for the party purely for selfish reasons. Twenty-three years on from that phenomenon, and thirteen years on from Theresa May’s speech about “The Nasty Party”, image the discrepancy between polls and the general election result this month show how much work still needs to be done.
Tim Montgomerie has moved the debate forward with The Good Right, but there is so much more that must be done. Access to Britain’s growth and success must be shared as widely as possible. The rules of fairness need to be rewritten to be as much about equality of chances as equality of wealth. Caring about the environment, from the careful stewardship of the British countryside to looking after oceans and rainforests thousands of miles away, should not be an issue neglected by the right.
From the emphasis on family to religious lessons handed down through generations, small-c conservative values have always been about compassion, charity and forgiveness. Lewisham Deptford may be still out of the Conservatives reach. But if the Conservatives are to gain the large majority they need, the party must wrestle back compassion from the left.