Liam Fox is a former Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, and is the Conservative candidate for North Somerset.
Ask anyone who has been out campaigning over the last few weeks, and they will tell you that this is an odd election. For a start, it is the first December election since 1910 when the election was a carried out between the third and 19th of that month. Many of our party workers are discovering for the first time the difficulties of electioneering in the dark and cold, with a shortened campaigning day and an unwillingness of voters to open their doors in the evenings.
It is also the third general election in four years, each with a different Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader. Voter irritation is palpable especially with those who promised to deliver on the people’s vote in the referendum but refused to do so once they reached the Commons. Scepticism is bordering on contempt for a political class who many voters believe have been unable to do their jobs and govern the country effectively.
It is a campaign in which, once again, we have been shocked at another terrorist act perpetrated in our capital city, a reminder of the permanent threat we face from those who see violence as a political tool. Naturally, the debate has, at least for a time, shifted onto issues of policing and our domestic security.
We will also see NATO leaders meeting once again in the UK this week in an uncertain world where North Korea and Iran are added to the threats that we may face from nuclear blackmail. Many of us thought we had won the battles against the nuclear one-sided disarmers back in the 1980s, but Jeremy Corbyn and his toxic tartan ally, Nicola Sturgeon, would leave Britain at the mercy of those who present an existential threat to our safety. It is a position that will be lost neither on our allies nor our enemies.
All of these different elements should not distract us from the fact that this is an extraordinarily important election. It is important for two reasons. The first is the unresolved constitutional dispute over Brexit and the need to bring it to closure. The second is that the United Kingdom, one of the world’s most economically and militarily powerful nations, faces the potential election of a hard left, extremist government which would have far-reaching consequences at home and abroad.
Let’s begin with Brexit. To trace the anger of voters we need to go back to the initial referendum itself where Parliament decided that it could not, or would not, decide on the issue of EU membership and that it should be determined by the British people themselves in a people’s vote.
Crucially, both the Government and the House of Commons promised that the result would be implemented. This commitment was reiterated at the 2017 general election when over 80 per cent of MPs were elected on manifestos that promised to honour the referendum result.
We now find ourselves in an election that very few wanted to see because many of those who were elected to implement that result simply refused to do so once in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister rightly took the view that an election was the only way to break the constitutional deadlock.
What makes matters worse in the eyes of many voters is that many MPs had a pre-meditated intent to betray them and many of them will use the opportunity of the election to get their revenge. The position of the Liberal Democrats in this election to simply ignore the vote of the British people and implement the will of the minority against the majority is the clearest possible example of the kind of antidemocratic behaviour that so enrages voters.
So “getting Brexit done” remains a potent weapon in this election. It is especially resonant for voters, like me, who campaigned and voted to leave the European Union and for whom getting Brexit process completed is important in itself. Boris Johnson’s energy and commitment on this front has been particularly effective. However, this clear message does not necessarily play well with conservatives who voted to remain. For these voters, the subtle change to “getting Brexit done because it is our democratic duty” allows a substantial proportion of them licence to continue to support us, and I have certainly found that it resonates on the doorstep.
As the election has progressed, however, there has been a shift in the main subject raised spontaneously by voters. While Brexit certainly dominated the first part of the campaign, there has increasingly been a tendency to raise the fear of Jeremy Corbyn and the hard left, in particular, the economic consequences.
Unsurprisingly, this has been particularly apparent with voters who can remember the 1970s, the last time we saw Labour politicians pander to the economic theories of the left combined with unfettered power for their trade union paymasters.Those who can remember having to operate by candlelight due to power strikes, inflation close to 20 per cent and dramatically rising unemployment have no wish to see a repeat performance.
One of the differences, however, between this election and 2017 is the increased scepticism from younger voters about the consequence of a hard left victory. They have been appalled by the anti-Semitism scandal that has engulfed Labour and remember how quickly Corbyn ditched plans over student tuition following the last election. Many also find Labour spending plans unbelievable and a growing number recognise that if they were ever implemented, it would be the next generation that would inherit Labour’s economic wasteland and the legacy of debt that would surely come with it.
There is more work to be done with these young voters in the coming days. A young member of my staff asked me what secondary picketing was. and was horrified at the response. It was a further shock to be told that not only did the state own and attempt to run companies such as British Airways and British Aerospace in the 1970s, but that Corbyn’s Labour wants to use taxpayers’ money to buy them back from the private sector.
There will be many temptations to talk of a range of different subjects between now and polling day but we must focus, with laser-like precision, on the two issues that are most likely to result in a Conservative victory: delivering on the people’s verdict in the EU referendum and getting Brexit done on one hand, and protecting Britain and its economy from the hard left extremist ideology of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party on the other. Complacency and distraction are our enemies. Commitment and focus will see Britain the winner.