Clark Vasey is the founder of Blue Collar Conservatism and was the Conservative Candidate for Workington in 2017
Since we first set up Blue Collar Conservatism in 2012, I have worked with Esther McVey to encourage the Conservatives to focus on the working class voters who have been taken for granted by Labour. They have been consistently let down by that party, and have been turning to the Conservatives in greater numbers than any other group. With the election of Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of posh metropolitan socialism followed by the Leave victory in the EU referendum, we were well placed to achieve an historic realignment. But in 2017 with a Brexit message diluted by unpopular policies we lost ground.
With our failure to deliver Brexit, what was once an opportunity now poses an existential threat to the party. Rather than winning over working class voters we now risk losing them hand over fist to the Brexit Party, as both the European elections and the Peterborough by-election demonstrate.
If we are still in the EU come 1 November, we risk irreparably breaching trust with these voters and offering Corbyn a route to power. Yet if we can deliver a proper Brexit at the end of October, thereby depriving Nigel Farage of his narrative of betrayal, then the potential of connecting with these voters remains. Corbyn does not speak for working- class people and, with Tom Watson determined to turn Labour into a party for metropolitan remainers, Labour are dropping any pretence of speaking for its traditional communities.
This is why Esther relaunched Blue Collar Conservatism earlier this year. Once we have delivered Brexit, we must build an agenda for working people by focusing on the issues which matter most to them. Being on the side of the people who need us most is not only the right thing to do, but is the only way in which we can win a majority. And it is only with that majority that we can keep out the most destructive socialist government in our history, and transform our country with the opportunities which will follow leaving the EU.
I was proud to support Esther in a campaign which put Blue Collar Conservatism on the agenda of this leadership contest. When the dust has settled, people will look back and see that she presented the most coherent and costed campaign in this contest.
This was possible because we applied three simple principles of Blue Collar Conservatism – 1) that resources should be focused on things which really matter to people, 2) that we must always ensure people are able to keep more of their own money and 3) that we must use Conservative policies to grow the economy to enable us to do 1 and 2.
You do not win working class voters by dipping into Ed Miliband’s bag of tricks. We need a Conservative agenda which delivers the things which really matter, not watered-down Labour policies.
This is what Esther did with her calls for more spending on police and schools funded by taking the DfID budget back to 2010 levels. This why Esther talked about public sector pay and fantastic initiatives such as a new Police Covenant. This was about genuinely shifting the dial on these issues which cause us huge pain in constituencies across the country. It was also about challenging orthodoxies within the party such as the 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid, which would have an important symbolic effect of showing we are listening, and are not just focused on Westminster priorities.
Over the coming weeks and months Blue Collar Conservatism will continue to make the case that the party must win over the support of working people, particularly in the Midlands and the North. Esther’s Blue Collar Conversations pub tour is making its way around the country talking to people who would not normally engage with Conservatives. This is helping us build up a body of ideas which our voters and potential voters actually want. But the most important challenge for us now is that the new leader recognises the importance of this agenda for our party and our country. This is why it was so welcome that Boris Johnson endorsed Esther’s Blue Collar agenda.
When it comes to shaping a popular agenda incorporating Blue Collar Conservatism there is only one remaining candidate in the contest, and that is Johnson. This is not about an individual’s background, but their ability to connect with people and present radical Conservative policies which will make a positive difference to them.
However, first we must deliver Brexit. If we are not out of the EU by 31 October we will never be given a hearing on what comes after, no matter how positive. Johnson is the only candidate who can restore trust on Brexit and deliver Blue Collar policies which will secure a Conservative majority and keep Corbyn out of Downing Street.