Alexander Temerko is deputy chairman of the OGN Group.
A working class man with a deep, proud passion running through his veins. In the case of Sir Alex Ferguson this was football; for Patrick McLoughlin, it’s the Conservative party. But this is not the only parallel between the two men.
When Sir Alex joined Manchester United, he was not short of pedigree or talented players to work with, and was signing up to a club with a proud history. He had achieved great success with Aberdeen and now had the opportunity to work with brilliant leaders and players. Likewise, McLoughlin has a proven track record as Transport Secretary, spearheading a transformative nationwide project in HS2.
He also has the players. Whereas Fergie inherited the class of ’92, McLoughlin has the class of ’16. This includes well-known stars such as Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, as well as newer faces who are none the less experienced campaigners already. This includes Brandon Lewis, James Wharton, Gavin Williamson, Chris Heaton-Harris, Ruth Davidson and Mark Field. Field is perhaps the strongest London MP today and one who could make a great future London Mayor. Unlike Labour, the Conservatives actually have a strong substitutes’ bench.
The timing is perfect for McLoughlin. Whilst some in the party might have the ability, they do not have his broad appeal. His predecessor Andrew Feldman was a shrewd, brilliant operator – a Jose Mourinho, perhaps – but after this summer’s whirlwind of political change, it is time for a fresh approach.
McLoughlin’s challenge is to now meld a title – or election – winning outfit. May has said that the party will work for all, not the few. McLoughlin now has to create a party that represents this, which is why his working class credentials are so crucial. Just as Liverpool declined in the early 1990s, so the Labour Party is subsiding into irrelevance, leaving huge opportunity for the Conservatives to reach out to Britain’s industrial heartlands to win new members. Here, McLoughlin’s Staffordshire tones can resonate far widely more than the clipped voices of Cameron’s Etonians ever could.
To achieve this, the Conservatives need to look north. That means more than just a glitzier Manchester. The North East, for example, has not always felt it has the attention it deserves. This Government must develop cities and towns across the north to build a strong nation and not just a few urban islands of prosperity. The importance of this has been proven by our exit from Europe (a setback Fergie had to overcome more than just once)
The party must also talent-spot from its academy of grassroots volunteers and councillors. McLoughlin can lead in finding the next generation of Conservatives, so that the party is diverse and strong at all levels of elections. As the party becomes more mixed, he must be able to bring different faces, voices and ideas together into one unit that plays together. Again, a man who could get the best out of characters as different (or difficult) as Eric Cantona, Roy Keane and Cristiano Ronaldo serves as inspiration.
Of course, no football team truly succeeds without wealthy backers. Fergie was astute at emptying the pockets of rich men so that he could spend smartly on success. Similarly, McLoughlin must be able to engage donors who may not give time volunteering but can provide vital funding.
None of this, however, can be achieved without a solid foundation. For Manchester United, this was a watertight defence; for the Tories, it must be the economy. Without a strong economy, we will have no country that works ‘for every one of us’ as the Prime Minister promised, no motivation for the grassroots and no donor confidence.
To get there, McLoughlin must help the party embrace business. For too long, we have either been silent on business or else represented it only through milquetoast, populist platitudes about SMEs. Big business is at the heart of the UK economy, and the Conservative Party has to do more to work with it to secure a strong future for itself and for the country. This is hugely important, and I would happily get involved directly to help drive the Conservative business and industrial agenda myself, as well as remaining a major donor and a member of the Leader’s group.
Whilst the Labour Party flaps, flounders and feuds under the Ronnie Moran-esque ‘leadership’ of Jeremy Corbyn, the Conservative Party has a huge opportunity. It must seize the chance to push through much-needed reforms to rebalance Britain’s economy. We need to build a country where the banking sector is not the be-all and end-all but actually enables private enterprise and supports real businesses.
As Chairman, McLoughlin, a former pit worker who defied the nonsense of Arthur Scargill, can speak for and understand the everyday voter far better than the hapless trade unions or Labour now can. He is the man to make the Tories a true One Nation party. He can deliver successes even greater than those brought by Sir Alex. With a uniquely strong team, the Conservatives can win any time and on any pitch – it’s just a question of by how much.