Chris Grayling is Leader of the House of Commons, and MP for Epsom and Ewell.
The Oldham by-election shows that as Conservatives we cannot afford to be complacent. Given no governing party has gained a seat in a by-election in over 30 years, it wasn’t a surprising result, but what the narrative around it did show is that many people, despite the headlines, haven’t realised just how much Labour has changed as a Party in recent months.
In the midst of a week when the worst of social media was to be found at the heart of our politics, one tweet stood out to me from one of the stream of visitors to the Oldham by-election campaign.
“I’ve just been round Oldham town centre,” it said, “and half the people there have never heard of Jeremy Corbyn.”
Herein lies the challenge that we face. As MPs sat and listened to Hilary Benn’s speech, it felt in the Commons chamber as if a defining moment might be unfolding in front of us. But in Oldham it clearly felt like nothing of the sort. The Labour vote turned out en masse, and even gave the Party a bigger percentage share of the vote than at the General Election.
That’s why when we talk about today’s Labour Party being a threat to the security of our economy and our nation, it’s more than just a political slogan.
Last week ConservativeHome’s Mark Wallace wrote a fascinating piece about his experience of a local meeting of the new generation Labour members in South London. He found deep hostility to moderate Labour MPs, threats of deselection and a fervour for the new leadership of the Party. But he also found a twenty-first century version of the Militant Tendency, the entryist group that almost destroyed Labour in the 1980s, now wrapped up in Momentum, the organisation that is now at the heart of Labour. The hard left is taking over Labour.
Over the coming months I suspect we are going to see the current fighting in the Labour Party become worse and worse, as militants and moderates alike try to assert their control. It’s already unpleasant and will get worse.
From a Conservative perspective, there is absolutely no room for complacency. The economy is still growing fast. The deficit is coming down steadily. Tax revenues are up, making the challenge of balancing the books more achievable.
Today’s Labour Party is a real threat to our country. Its financial policies would send us back to the economic dark ages. It would dismantle our defences and hope that no one would bother us anymore. It would bring old-fashioned hard-left socialism to Britain with disastrous effects.
So we have to roll our sleeves up and defeat it comprehensively. That work starts now. In less than six months’ time we have elections up and down the country, for mayors, MSPs, AMs, local councillors and Police and Crime Commissioners. We need to beat Labour now, and at every election for the next five years.
We’ve made tremendous progress in areas like providing more affordable childcare, cracking down on coasting schools and making housing more affordable. Keeping the country’s economy strong has helped create the security to be able to deliver on these commitments as well as providing the ability to give the NHS and Britain’s defence services the resources they need.
There is an old joke in politics that the historic role of Conservatives is to clean up the mess that Labour government’s leave behind. This time our role is rather different – it is to make sure that the new militant Labour never gets anywhere near office in the first place. The risk the Opposition poses to this country is immense.