Luke Brady is a musician.
The Republicans have won the 2016 General Election in the U.S. They didn’t just win the White House, or the Senate, of the House but they also have a majority of the State Governorships and a run at nominating the Supreme Court Justices of their choice. They did this without carrying the popular vote but with one of the most controversial and divisive candidates in history: Donald Trump.
On this side of the Atlantic the Conservatives have somewhere between a 12 and 14 point lead over the Labour Party under Corbynista rule. Brexit was largely considered a victory for UKIP and the talk of European politics is strong challengers from the right in France, Germany Italy and Spain.
So Conservatism is on the march throughout the Western World and domestic Conservatives should feel the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with the vindication of their political beliefs. Am I the only one who doesn’t feel that?
My belief is that this comes from the fact that there are large swathes of the public that harbours a great deal of resentment towards all political parties. They resent the Labour Party for its internal civil war. They resent the Conservatives for their lack of pace, direction or narrative on Brexit. They resent the Liberals for their opposition to the referendum mandate. They resent UKIP and the SNP for their narrow focus bordering on obsession with single issues.
The harnessing of public anger has seen success in recent UK elections. In Scotland the independence campaign attempted to harness the public discontent with the establishment of Westminster and, particularly, the Coalition Government. The SNP was unsuccessful in the referendum but has harnessed enough electoral support this way to consolidate its dominance at Holyrood and Westminster. In the wider UK, UKIP and the Vote Leave campaign also used this anger to fuel their narrow victory. The temptation to hit out against the status quo is strong.
At the moment this populist tsunami is blowing Theresa May’s ship to eye-watering leads in the polls. The Prime Minister’s focus on people on the lower end of the financial spectrum is excellent politics and has been the key to electoral success for every Government seeking re-election since Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy.’
The problem for Conservatives is that the voters whose support they need to maintain are angry. There is no combining or overarching political philosophy to them other than the will for change. What change and in what direction is not truly clear. There is room for Conservatism to convince these voters for a generation or more. There is also room for it to become a tainted brand that will be swept from electoral politics in all of the places that it is currently making forward strides.
Conservatives know that social media is often choppy waters for them to navigate. They are often dismissed as ill informed, uncaring, uneducated, evil, cruel, intolerable and simply cruel. Let’s be honest, it’s an easy argument to make. The socialist idea of simply handing over money to treat the symptoms of a problem is much more convenient to put into a meme, gif or sound bite than the idea that a strong economy and business confidence will mean there will be high employment and therefore less problems to treat the symptoms of.
We hear very often the people feel let down or left behind by politics. This is why. Communication and debate has been reduced to what pictures can be thrown up onto Facebook and what links from which biased media outlet, (which I don’t deny this is one) can be spread the furthest. Not only are Conservatives losing this battle, they are being having to put up with this continual dismissal and attempted shaming of their beliefs. This has backfired in every major ballot since the 2010 General election. Any member of the Scottish electorate who backed the Better Together campaign will have felt this most keenly as they sat for two years being told they were not players on ‘Team Scotland.’ That anger played its part in defeating Scottish Independence in 2014.
The title of this article was ‘We don’t want to win like this…’ After reading all about Conservative successes (though many are still split on Brexit and Trump) you may wonder what I mean. I have pointed out that anger is the source of our current success. Anger is the avenue by which most political parties enter Government. I’m sure everyone reading this has heard the saying “Oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them.” It has more than a passing basis in fact. The Conservatives are the Government. They are a Government that is six years old with an angry electorate. An incompetent opposition, change of Prime Minister and uncertain constitutional waters ahead have buoyed them up but depending on that for electoral success is an extremely short-term solution.
So what is to be done? Many think the Conservatives are on course for an election victory, whenever this might be held. I agree and this is what I will hope and work for. We may return a mammoth majority but we must not consider this the winning of the political argument unless we have made the case to the Country about our own Conservative values. We cannot mistake benefiting from Labour incompetence as a vindication and belief in our agenda. We must still campaign for it and convince people of its benefit. That is true statesmanship and true Government.
This is how to win clean and this is how to win clean. This is how to restore a bit of faith in politics. Above all, this is how to defend what Conservatism is against the populist insurgency.