James Frayne is Director of communications agency Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion. The focus of this column is Theresa May’s conservatism for “ordinary working people”.
Theresa May should walk on to the Tory Conference stage with one thing in mind: the destruction of the Labour Party as we know it.
Her speech should mark the beginning of a process to completely dominate the political mainstream, pushing the Labour Party out to the fringes with the Lib Dems.
Labour are irrelevant to the lives of ordinary people. Since Tony Blair left office they’ve abandoned all attempts to protect the lifestyles of the great mass of working class and lower middle class voters. They’ve also self-consciously rejected their values.
Without the Tories’ Thatcherite baggage, UKIP are greedily eating into Labour’s Northern heartlands. This will continue.
But such is Labour’s dislocation from working class and lower middle class households that the Tories should now consider reaching into those heartlands a real possibility. That means three things for Theresa May’s speech.
Firstly: continuing to define a key part of her mission as boosting the economic prospects of ordinary families. She is right to focus primarily on those “just about managing”, rather than the most disadvantaged, who were David Cameron’s priority.
Secondly: May must extend her appeal to those just about managing by engaging in a cultural battle with Labour. These voters are, after all, driven as much by their values as their financial interests – and Labour’s values are now totally detached from the mainstream.
May should talk of a welfare system that rewards a willingness to work, human rights legislation that protects those in need, border control to ensure migration is manageable, education policies that raise standards, healthcare policies that extend access for busy families, lower taxes that help families, and strong armed forces that protect our country.
Sometimes such overtly cultural speeches can sound strident and excessively confrontational. After Corbyn’s reelection and Labour’s Party conference, it’ll all ring true. People need to hear the Tories say they’re on the public’s side in this coming confrontation.
Thirdly: May should promote an industrial policy designed to repair some of the damage done by the decline of our industrial areas in the 80s and 90s. She should address head on the hatred that many still have for the Tories.
She’ll rightly be wary of a repeat of her “nasty party” comments, but there’s no way to deal with this problem without an acknowledgement that damage was done and only new ideas will now help. Given Labour heartlands are up for grabs, why wouldn’t she do this?
On Europe, May voted the “wrong way” but accepts the result and can draw a distinction between her willingness to listen to the public and Labour’s unwillingness. Other than some basic comments about the need to make Britain a great trading power, this is all best dealt with properly another day (which must come soon).
One speech won’t change politics overnight, but May can set out a clear direction of travel for the Tories’ long campaign into 2020. Now that Labour have chosen Corbyn to be their candidate for Prime Minister, it’s the time to start making the fundamental choices between the two parties visible.