John Stevenson is MP for Carlisle.
There is much analysis to be carried out to explore why the Conservatives failed to win the general election. Articles will be written, data will be analysed, and opinions will be proffered by commentators: hindsight will, as ever, be a powerful tool of dissection.
I myself have not been able to discern a particular pattern in the results. Yes, Brexit played a part – but nowhere near as much as you would have thought with only a few days between the end of the election and the start of crucial negotiations. Yes, the youth vote had an impact, and there does seem to be a generational divide forming – but, according to YouGov, the age bracket at which a voter finally became more likely to vote Conservative than Labour is 50-59: without wanting to offend any readers, that’s a broad definition of youth.
Therefore I have moved away from the numbers, and I am basing my analysis on what I learned on the doorstep in my constituency and hometown, Carlisle. I believe that there were two key points that made this election different from 2015’s.
Firstly, the economy was nowhere near as high on our campaigning agenda as it was in 2015. We allowed “austerity” to be seen as a Tory negative, rather than taking the Labour manifesto apart for being a fantasy wish-list. We didn’t seem to be able to emphasise the continuing importance of a strong economy, and what that means for the necessary provision of public services.
And this brings me to the second point, which is that we lacked any kind of narrative on public services. We said that we needed to continue to reform, but we did not make the case for why or how.
I fully accept we do not have the money to spend. We are still not living within our means: indeed, we are borrowing £50 billion a year and there are some worrying early signs that the economy may be slowing.
We cannot abandon our position on public services, though. It is clear that there are areas such as education and health that still need further reform, but this reform needs to be backed up by appropriate funding. And we should not borrow more: the money must come from existing budgets.
Given this, I believe it would be sensible to suspend our 0.7 per cent commitment to overseas aid whilst we have a budget deficit. and not re-implement it until the point we have balanced our books. In the meantime, we should halve that budget, and bring the Department for International Development under the full control of the Foreign Office to honour our existing commitments and to ensure the continuation of important schemes that make a measurable impact, such as vaccination programmes.
The rest of the budget (around £7 billion) should be transferred to education, health and the police – with specific and quantifiable outcomes expected as a result.
This would send a positive message to the country that the Conservatives still recognise public services as a priority – and that we have the policies to back it up. The electorate forgives the Conservative Party, generally, for making difficult decisions. It does not forgive us for incompetence. At the moment the public, are disappointed with us; unless we begin to come up with a positive and coherent vision of the future, that disappointment will quickly turn to anger.