Baroness Stowell is a former leader of the House of Lords.
There’s only one agenda that matters. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post for ConservativeHome outlining my take on why the Conservatives were enjoying a massive lead in the opinion polls. In short, I said it was because Theresa May is the only party leader, and indeed one of very few senior politicians, to have correctly interpreted the EU Referendum.
The Prime Minister understands that when voters decided to ‘take back control’, they set a new agenda which politicians must pursue, and make a success of in the national interest – and more clearly than ever before, in the interests of the hard-working people that politicians talk a lot about, but have too often failed in the past.
From the first time that she spoke as Prime Minister from the steps of Number Ten, Theresa May made that agenda her own, and has stuck to it. That is what has attracted the support of Leave voters from across the political spectrum who believe that the referendum was their way of rebalancing the injustice they feel – as well as that of some of the so-called “Re-Leavers”.
Faced with the opportunity of a general election to entrench their agenda (which, let’s not forget, was put at risk by Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and a large majority of Peers voting for the power to overturn the referendum result), voters are now willing to reconsider long-held party allegiances. They are asking one big question when they weigh up who to vote for: who is with us and who is against us?
Judged against that backdrop, the Conservative manifesto, which includes ideas from across the political spectrum, provides a reassuring answer. It is frank about what is wrong with the way our country works, and honest about how the next Tory government will work to put it right in a post-Brexit world.
But against a wider political backdrop, it is only a start. As much as it pains us to have to acknowledge it, in normal circumstances some floating voters are still not sure when they look our way. And over the next Parliament – hopefully back in government! – we will have to keep working hard to understand better the needs of all floating voters, and be ready to change whatever it is that puts people off with whom we actually share so much.
There is a lot that we can learn from the uproar over social care that can keep us moving in the right direction. But its immediate impact on the polls suggests it’s worth unpacking now why that policy and the handling of it has had such cut-through with people who don’t normally follow the ups and downs of Westminster.
Whilst voters will acknowledge social care is something that we as a society need to grapple with, it’s got little (if anything) to do with Brexit. More to the point, whilst policy-wonks like to describe the differences in public spending on the old and young as an “injustice”, that’s not how thrifty pensioners, who brought up families before such things as tax credits and still managed to put aside some savings, see it. As far as voters are concerned, older people are most definitely not part of the problem that politicians need to sort out fixing, and certainly not before tackling some real injustices. And the risk of suggesting they are – as the Prime Minister and her team have discovered – is that voters start questioning again whose side you’re on.
That said, it was heartening to hear the veteran who challenged May about social care in the Sky/Channel 4 debate on Monday night say after the show that he will still vote Conservative on 8th June. This signals that voters’ confidence remains strong. But we’re not there yet.
When the Prime Minister called this election, she was very clear why it was necessary. In this final week of the campaign, all effort should be on reassuring voters again that this poll is happening so that they can be sure their agenda cannot be changed.
Only the Conservatives have adopted that it as our own, and can be relied upon to negotiate a good Brexit deal, so our economy remains strong and we can pay for the public services on which everyone relies. And, in taking back control of how things work in this country, only a Conservative Government will tackle the injustices between those who are not pulling their weight or getting away with doing wrong, and everyone else who is working hard and trying to do everything right.