Iain Anderson is Executive Chairman at Cicero Group. He has been a member of the Conservative Party since 1984 and has worked for a range of Conservative politicians.
Politics is complicated. Governing is hard. Consulting widely, drafting well-considered policy, managing the grid and finally presenting the delivery of an idea. None of it is easy.
And yet the power to do just that in government is a desire that uniquely unites the Conservative Party.
Power is not the be all and end all, but we Conservatives seem more aware than our Labour friends that a good idea in government is better than a great idea in opposition. If you can’t implement what you’re thinking, what’s the point?
Downing Street has had a Conservative resident since 2010, when David Cameron ascended to the role with Nick Clegg by his side. Since then, political earthquakes have disrupted the day-to-day political order.
And yet, as much as things have changed, so much has stayed the same. After the main political parties fended off the talk of a new political force that swelled immediately after the Brexit vote, few people have asked the longer-term question that is required: What are our political parties for?
The Labour Party is extending its reach further beyond politics on an almost daily basis. As Jeremy Corbyn becomes an increasing social force and fashion statement on tote bags, football scarves, and oversized t-shirts, the Conservative Party must reassess the role it plays in people’s lives.
It could be limited by design, perhaps. That will please many small-state Conservatives who see no real need for government and political parties to frame or shape their ability to make choices freely. But concerns about the size and scope of the party must arise when membership, activism, and passion are all being dwarfed by Labour and Momentum – to whom, irrespective of your political stripes, credit must go for building such a driven movement. We need our own Momentum, but first we need some momentum.
The idea behind a new “Blue Book” was born by people with big ideas about how to create and deliver change for the better. Our Blue Book contains policy proposals from a broad range of Conservative members and non-members, activists and campaigners. Contributions have come from authors including: John Godfrey, a former Number 10 policy chief; Charlotte Black, a financial markets and corporate governance expert; and Nick Hillman, former special adviser and current Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute.
Delivering Brexit, but not being defined by it
So what is the Conservative Party for? Politically, the party’s principle mandate has become embodying the result of the EU referendum and delivering Brexit. The importance of the task cannot be understated. But we cannot and should not be defined by or restricted to it.
Theresa May told us such, as did the result of the 2017 general election. Too many of us thought it was a Brexit election, but the Labour Party changed the debate and the principle barometers became public spending and the future of austerity.
By the next election, our main selling point as a party cannot just be technical explanations about how Brexit has thrown off the shackles of the European Court of Justice as we transition to an EFTA court model. We cannot knock on doors and hope to persuade voters to choose the Conservatives because we’ve negotiated a bespoke free trade agreement, as much as new trading relationships will deliver tangible benefits to the economy but in time.
The opportunities we seek from Brexit may not have materialised by the next election, and so the promised benefits may not work on the campaign trail. We have to be relevant, tangible and relatable now. And we have to talk to people in language they can relate to.
Domestic politics would have endured if we’d voted to remain in the EU. Parliament’s focus would have been on corporate governance, housing, pensions, long-term social care, food banks, public sector pay – a long list of issues now reduced to the undercard of the parliamentary calendar.
These are the day-to-day issues that directly impact people’s lives. Being liberated from unelected bureaucrats in Brussels won’t put food on a hungry family’s table, create more places in the local comprehensive, or magically allow more appointments at the local GP. These are the domestic questions that voters ask political parties to answer. As we wrestle with the principles of Brexit, we Conservatives cannot ignore the practicalities of everyday Britain.
Brexit will be a part of voter’s thinking by the next election. But it won’t be all of it, especially if the welcome benefits of free trade take years to surface after lengthy negotiations. Important as it is in the political zeitgeist, the way we handle Brexit will not directly or immediately help the veteran suffering from PTSD in Chelmsford, the single parent in Chesterfield, or the hard-working apprentice in Cheadle.
Domestic politics will. This new Blue Book creates a forum to present those big ideas. It is the first edition in a series of essays and policy proposals authored by centre-right thinkers writing in a personal capacity, with all the openness that means. They are not defined by their stance on the EU or the Scottish referendum, just as they are not bound by their professional capacities. We have reached out to Conservative members, non-members, activists, and leaders who have chosen to make a personal contribution to the policy debate.
Again and again in this book, you will hear about a disconnect between what Conservatives are saying and what the country is doing. Between the aspiration of young voters and Tory thinking. This must be addressed.
The political pulse is changing all around us. Gone are the days when the narrative was seized by a vote on fox hunting or a minor ministerial scandal. Voters the world over are being increasingly drawn to big and bold policies – building walls, scrapping fees, hiking minimum wages and, transforming labour forces. The ‘promise first, explain later’ approach.
The challenge for our party now is crafting big ideas that are well thought-out and costed, and then designing ways to sell them to voters. Our motivation should be that, come the next election, voters feel as if their lives have been improved by a Conservative government. After all, in the simplest terms, that is the precise purpose of any political party.
The task won’t be simple. It’s easier to oppose than to govern. That’s why Corbyn enjoys it so much. Not all policies will fit on a protest placard or in a tweet. Some won’t lend themselves to Facebook posts, where more and more voters are reading their news. In a reductionist world that simplifies politics and policy, communicating Conservative ideas will be just as hard as crafting them.
They must be considerate and measured, so that they deliver for the people of the United Kingdom. Voters must feel the effects of Conservatives in government. We cannot hope that marginal constituencies will be swung on macroeconomic figures and percentages that are more boardroom table than kitchen table.
In political campaigns, if you’re explaining you’re losing. The task for our party is to broaden the debate within and get back to crafting policies that address the long-term systemic challenges facing the country head on, with a view to delivering for all the people of this country.
With contributions made in a personal capacity from across the centre-right, this new Blue Book is just the start of that conversation.
Read more at www.newbluebook.com.