Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector. Follow them on Twitter.
On Wednesday, a group of storytellers – who just so happen to be Conservative supporters – met at the Ellwood Atfield Gallery in Smith Square to hear from Katie Perrior about her time in Number 10, and to explore the purpose of, and indeed future for, the Party.
Perrior served as Theresa May’s PR chief right up until when the 2017 election was called (when May was 24 points up in the national polls). And a fascinating story and exchange of ideas it was for the 100 or so guests – in-house and agency PR and public affairs specialists plus current and former special advisors and CCHQ staffers – who turned up for the relaunch of Conservatives in Communications, which Perrior now chairs.
I won’t spill the beans on what was said, but I do want to share some brief thoughts, based on my experiences, as a way of demonstrating the value that those of us in this network can bring to future leadership campaigns and potentially in government.
I was born in Beverley and grew up in Hull, listening to the band Beautiful South. At just six years of age, my mum died of breast cancer, and shortly after my sixteenth birthday while finishing my GCSEs I became an orphan when my dad passed away suddenly. I knew I had a stark choice: to sink or swim. I chose to study – to pursue a career, and to work weekends – so that I could afford to live.
After a much-needed move away from home and positive three years at the University of East Anglia, I jumped on a train to the Beautiful South and began searching for full-time employment – just as signs of a global financial crisis were beginning to emerge. I settled for a life in PR, enhancing the perception of the finance sector and promoting the technology needed to progress it.
Why am I telling you this? The backdrop was an unpopular Tory government under John Major, followed by years in the political wilderness for the Conservatives. And all because of a failure by a succession of people to tell the Tory story of aspiration and opportunity that I knew existed.
In short, the Party didn’t have a convincing narrative and failed to connect with the British electorate which resulted in three consecutive victories for Tony Blair.
Despite the nationalisation of Northern Rock and RBS, and everything else that was happening, David Cameron was unable to secure a majority and ended up forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Whatever your thoughts about those years in power (and mine are positive), there’s no doubt in my mind that George Osborne’s management of the economy, together with strategic and disciplined messaging, helped the Tories to victory in 2015: it was all about, and I apologise in advance, that Long Term Economic Plan.
Confidence in the economy picked up, businesses performed well, and as a result hired new staff, from which I and others subsequently benefited. Fast forward four years and, wow, has the situation reversed. Whichever side you were on before the referendum (or are on now), there’s no doubt in my mind that Brexit is consuming everyone’s time and preventing us from getting on with more important things – and articulating that work.
As the leadership contenders begin to set out their stalls, let’s judge their ability to tell the Tory story – and during that process, where it’s required, I’m sure you’ll see the influence of Conservatives in Communications. If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved please email firstname.lastname@example.org.