Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She had co-charge of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership and was founding director of the New Schools Network.
Labour has responded to this election with arrogance. The Conservatives, with humility. This is, given the result, extraordinary – and is a reminder of why we won.
Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes won’t accept that people disliked him and thought that his programme was undeliverable. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has made clear that those who have – for the first time – voted Conservative must now be convinced they made the right decision.
This is clearly correct. There is no deep bond between the Conservatives and these voters. One must be forged.
I spent the election campaign co-writing the manifesto (a major team effort). The programme focuses on the needs and priorities of the new Conservative voter.
This is a greater mental and policy shift than many realise. In my experience, with well over a decade doing policy work for the party and government, we Conservatives too often slip into thinking of the world in terms of wealthy and poor. In that world, the job of a compassionate One Nation Conservative is to provide help and support for people in dire need. Often, it presupposes they have chaotic and desperate lives.
This is a useless picture of the nation. The vast majority of people are not poor or wealthy. They are competent, good parents. They want criminals to be punished. They work and contribute to society – financially and in other ways. They rely wholly on the state for daily services and if things go wrong, but most of the time they cope. They are – to use the phrase that my husband and another ConservativeHome columnist James Frayne coined – Just About Managing. (Remember that?)
These are our new voters. And there are three areas that we had in mind and wove through the manifesto which are particularly crucial if they are to trust us again.
The first is fairness. More specifically, a system that recognizes effort and reward, but also bad luck and real need. For example, the manifesto promised what David Cameron tried and failed to achieve in his EU negotiation: to require migrants to contribute for several years before being able to claim benefits.
It promised to give local people discounted homes, and to build local infrastructure such as schools before people move into new developments.
It promised a much clearer link between crime and punishment, while also focusing on rehabilitation for those that are willing to work for it.
This is all about recognising the contract between people and the state: we expect everyone who can to contribute, we will look after those who need help, and we will punish those who break the rules. A huge proportion of our new voters think that contract is broken – on welfare, on immigration, on crime, on housing. The Conservative government must show it is restored.
The second area is public services. In five years, people need to find it easier to get a GP appointment, think A&E and social care is better not worse, and not believe that their schools are struggling with budgets. This was a huge focus of the manifesto. It requires looking at the entire system of delivery – recruitment, retention, incentives, performance: an enormously complex task to deliver simple but vital results.
The third area is place. There has been far more conversation on this topic than on either of the other two, and I’m not going to rehash the communitarian, or the ‘somewhere/anywhere’ debate.
But there is a reason why this manifesto had a massive focus on towns, on buses and local transport and reversing Beeching cuts, and also on all the civic and cultural infrastructure that makes a town worth living in. There is a reason that the increases in the science and R&D budget is focused not only on high risk new ideas but on regional growth. We should expect a lot more infrastructure spending in this area in the coming years.
These are all big challenges – and crucial to their delivery are two other great reforms.
Constitutional affairs: how do we make elections fair, how do we balance parliament, the executive, and the judiciary. How do we ensure that decisions are made in the optimal way?
Government itself: what does the civil service need to look like to deliver? Who gets recruited, how are they trained, how are they rewarded and held accountable?
The manifesto pledges sounded deliberately simple. Delivering on them is achievable, but unquestionably a five year project. We now have the chance, for the first time in more than 20 years to demonstrate what a majority government is capable of, and in that process help the people that Labour has left behind.