Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.
No one knows more about elections than Tim Bell, who repeatedly won them for Margaret Thatcher. Lord Bell, as he now is, eventually distilled his years of experience into a single dictum. All elections, he said, came down to two messages: “Time for a change” versus “Don’t let the other lot muck it up”. Everything else, he thought, was noise.
Today’s election might at first blush look like an exception. After all, Theresa May called it because she wanted her own mandate. She doesn’t want to be bound by her predecessor’s manifesto, and stresses that her blue-collar conservatism is new and different – a message which seems to be playing with traditional Labour voters.
Stand back, though, and squint at the picture more impressionistically, and you’ll see that Bell’s Law still holds. A Conservative Government is seeking re-election – a Government in which May served successfully, deporting hate preachers, monitoring terror suspects and presiding over a steep drop in crime despite a tight police budget. Our party will inevitably be judged on its record in office – and, in the last analysis, that is why it should win today.
Most voters remember the condition in which Gordon Brown left Britain seven years ago. Our Treasury was empty, our credit exhausted and we had a higher deficit than Greece’s. Indeed, an inability properly to recall that time may be part of the reason that people under 24 are likelier than the rest of us to vote Labour.
Over the past seven years, we haven’t just drawn back from the precipice. We have outperformed most other industrialised countries. Ours was the fastest-growing G7 economy last year, and we have created as many jobs over the past five years as the other 27 EU states put together. We have become the global leader in fintech, the creative arts, law and education. We have reversed the long decline in school standards while at the same time reviving apprenticeships. We are selling more cars than at any time since the early 1970s. We have lifted the burden of income tax from people on the lowest salaries. We have opted to become an independent, global nation again.
Sure, we can all think of one or two things that could have been done differently. You will have your ideas as to what they are, I mine – and Mrs May, as we see in the manifesto, hers. But, all in all, it’s a pretty impressive record. Most governing parties in Europe over the past eight years would love to be able to sing our song.
So much for “Time for a change”. What about the obverse, “Don’t let the other lot muck it up”? (In private, Lord Bell uses a stronger word than “muck”.) Here, I’m not sure that we have even now grasped the full horror of what Jeremy Corbyn believes in. It’s not just that he would raise taxes to a level not seen since the aftermath of World War Two. It’s not just that he would nationalise, confiscate and regulate, in a British version of the Venezuelan socialism he admires. It’s not even that, in every conflict we have known, he has backed our enemies. No, it’s something scarier than any of that that. Deep down, Jeremy Corbyn regrets the outcome of the Cold War. Even now, when the full horror of its legacy is clear, he can’t bring himself to renounce Marxism.
Just imagine what would happen if, instead of Brexit leading to a more global, more deregulated, more free-trading Britain, it became an opportunity for what Stalin used to call “socialism in one country”. Try to picture the international reaction if, as we left the EU, the British government was distracted with raising corporation tax, discouraging investment and seizing large tracts of the economy. We’d learn, just like the Venezuelans, how quickly a prosperous country can be reduced to penury. For once, Lord Bell’s aphorism, even in the saltier version, is precisely apposite.
Let’s review the choice. We have two small parties, the Lib-Dems and the Greens, that are no longer pretending to accept the referendum result, and want to crawl back to Brussels. We have UKIP, most whose supporters will pat themselves on the back for a job well done and vote for the party that will now deliver Brexit. We have a Labour Party that hankers after the socialist policies that have failed everywhere they have been tried, from Cuba to Czechoslovakia, from Vietnam to Venezuela. And we have a Conservative Party under which growth, manufacturing output, the stock exchange, exports, retail activity, business confidence, investment and employment are all rising. Don’t let the other lot muck it up.