Matt Kilcoyne is Head Of Communications at the Adam Smith Institute.
This election is the most important in a generation: it is the great fight. The battle between socialism and freedom. Our entire society is at stake.
The battle of ideas over our future identity: whether we’re subsumed by Europe or set ourselves free, whether we overcome the dither and delay that has seen Parliament fail to deliver the result of the largest democratic event in our history, whether we push for competition and innovation or return the economy to the cold death grip of the state.
All of it is up for grabs. Voters have clear choices.
Labour’s left-wing leadership knows this is their shot at totally and utterly transforming the country – of shoving socialism onto our society. Corbyn will let the concerns of Britain’s Jewish communities play second fiddle to the chance to cripple capitalism and seize control of every lever in our economy.
The Liberal Democrats have a single purpose and mission and the ground troops to drive it home: stop Brexit at any cost.
The SNP eye the chance to rip up the country and overturn not one but two referendums where its leader disliked the result. Plaid Cymru want to take Welsh independence mainstream.
The Greens fuel the narrative of a climate crisis and push the message that there’s just one shot left to save all humanity from extinction.
The Brexit Party wish a plague on all the politicians’ houses and yearn to clean out the Augean stables at Westminster.
These are all massive ideological fights. The maxim that all politics is local might be true, and all general elections will see fights on 650 fronts. But broader values do matter, and the Tories are up against parties committed to clear missions.
Many of these missions as existential threats to our way of life, our country, and to democracy itself.
I do not envy the Prime Minister or the Conservative Party the task that lies ahead. Forgive me the allusion to Tolkien, but while Boris Johnson may have wished it need not have happened in his time, it is not for him to decide. All he has to decide is what to do now the time is upon him.
The Conservatives need a message that is worthy of the time and the gravity of the moment.
So far, though, I wonder what it is. It all looks a little like Johnson’s mayoral campaigns. Money for the police, a tough stance on criminals, upgraded hospitals for your aging parents, a tax cut by raising the threshold on national insurance – all are designed to solidify the base, just as they bolstered support in the Tory doughnut around the capital.
Bans on live exports of animals, easier visas for scientists, an end to the benefit freeze, a moratorium on fracking – all of these are the ‘One Nation’ skirt that is designed to convince those swing voters in target seats that Johnson can be trusted to do the nice thing as well as the right thing.
He has an optimism about Britain; he has an infectious enthusiasm for new ideas, his commitment to capitalism and individual freedom have all the makings of a great Prime Minister. He understands that prosperity is built up by the risk takers, the entrepreneurs who start businesses, work hard, employ people and deliver value to their customs. He needs to be unleashed.
The manifesto should be short but clear cut. Every message should link up to a big idea within the campaign and every policy should be coherent and consistent with the last.
Banking on wooing Labour heartlands with socialist economic policy is a strategy that is doomed. Not only did this fail at the last election, it hollows out the principles of the Conservative Party.
Labour can and will outbid the Conservatives on spending on the NHS or education. If the party keeps spending at the rate they have pledged since Johnson took the keys of Downing Street, then the hard-won reputation for fiscal management in the aftermath of the financial crisis will be lost. As the polls shift towards a two-horse race, this kind of bidding could be the campaign’s undoing.
There are, however, things that Johnson can and should do with clear reasoning. An election campaign is about more than winning the daily news cycle. It’s about convincing voters to choose your vision on how to move Britain forward to a brighter future.
The country needs to get moving. Robert Jenrick and the likes of Esther McVey and Ben Bradley are turning their department into an ideas factory to solve the housing crisis. The manifesto should enable the construction of houses in the places people want to live and work. This should be bolstered by commitments to localism, by letting residents of a single street pick a design code and vote within their street to allow building up to five or six storeys. London’s nicest and dense boroughs like Pimlico are still Tory voting.
Scrapping stamp duty would mean more movers, people moving to the places they want to live and work, older folk downsizing and families freed to have an extra bedroom. Density delivers for young people who want to get on. Homeownership sits at the heart of the party’s commitment to a property owning democracy, removing a tax that is harmful economically is common sense and popular. All of these can deliver votes in this election without losing those in future too.
In towns and cities blighted by deindustrialisation of their main industry, it continues to be a hard place to be Conservative candidate. There are steps we can take to encourage rebooting these towns. If we make it easier to invest in machinery and factories by allowing companies to write off investments as a loss straight away, just as they can do for office paper and pens now, we’ll see investment spike. Something similar in the USA boosted investment by 17.5 per cent. It’s a real commitment to towns and cities outside the capital, it will help level up the country.
After three miserabilist years following the referendum result, and a continuity remain campaign telling young people that they have had their future stolen, it is unsurprising that they have not come round to the idea yet. Getting Brexit done will deliver crucial voters now, but the Prime Minister should give young people something to look forward to after Brexit too.
In fact, Johnson should reboot his own idea from earlier this decade. Make it easier for young Brits to move and work abroad in the places they actually want to go. Canada, Australia, the USA, Singapore, New Zealand. They are losing the easy right to move to Tallinn and Bucharest. But all the evidence suggests they never really used that. Now, making it easier to move to Toronto, or for their qualifications to be recognised in New York – that’s a prize that they’ll appreciate. We have got trade deals coming up, it’s easy to stick the commitment in and for voters to see that the future of the country can look bright by turning to our friends and allies across the world.
Johnson must show too that he gets that people are angry with the current political settlement. We must never again have a situation where the Prime Minister is held hostage by the opposition and cannot even call and election. The Fixed Terms Parliament Act is a constitutional travesty and must go. Our constitution should not be made in the courts, and the cosy cartel of QCs that have created a merry-go-round of cases should know that they have done lasting damage to their own standing. The Supreme Court should be the highest civil court, but constitutional matters should be heard by Law Lords in the House of Lords again.
There should be a commitment to look at how devolution has worked, whether it has fed resentment and nationalism or delivered good governance. Regional governments are dependent on centrally raised funds and this needs to end — they should be made accountable to voters by having direct power to tax their own citizens. As a One Nation party, if it makes sense to force Holyrood and Cardiff to hand over powers to city regions and cross-border projects then the Conservatives should stand up for the British interest.
The Conservatives should know that consistency is key, but so is cogency. Boris can deliver a stonking majority if he commits his manifesto to both. It’ll mean more doers and makers, more movers and shakers, more owners and most crucially more voters.