Nadhim Zahawi is MP for Stratford On Avon.
Last Thursday was an awful night. Thanks to the amazing efforts in Scotland by Ruth Davidson and her team, the Conservatives only had a net loss of 13 seats: however, we lost 33 sitting Conservative MPs. Those are 33 hardworking and impressive men and women who unexpectedly lost their seats and now have to find new employment. It’s a real loss to our party to have so many intelligent, committed and capable colleagues taken from Parliament – and so many were personal friends too. The Commons will be a worse place without them, for many more reasons than just a lost majority.
Like everyone else, I envisioned a much better outcome only a few weeks ago. Doubts didn’t arise until my former colleagues at YouGov released their election modelling, and my conversations on the doorstep of marginal seats in Birmingham stopped being as positive as they had previously been.
We now need to take our time, and honestly discuss what we think caused this turnaround. In my view, the focus of the questions that need to be asked should be about the campaign strategy, tactics and messaging – especially because I believe the manifesto contained a good and hopeful platform for Government.
Despite the outcome, the policies in our manifesto were a step in the right direction, from which we must not retreat backwards. It’s just that, at times, we didn’t seem interested in selling them, or our record. We were damaged by the social care policy, and how poorly it was initially explained. But we were also damaged by failing to focus enough on the positive policies that we had – the reasons to vote Conservative, rather than just the reasons not to vote Labour.
I voted to leave the European Union, I want to see a good Brexit deal and I still believe that Theresa May has the capacity to secure that deal. However, the country is not full of political obsessives. We fool ourselves if we think that those who voted to leave the EU only care about leaving the EU. Ordinary people in Britain want to get on with their lives, work hard and create a better future for their families. Unfortunately, they were met too often with silence about how our party is best placed to help them do this. They may want to leave the European Union, or they may not. But they certainly want a good school for their kids, a home they can buy and a good job.
It is beyond frustrating that we had policies to address these needs. They’re in our manifesto. But we didn’t take the opportunity to make them unmissable to those with only a passing interest in politics.
I was also surprised to see Nick Timothy getting more than his fair share of the blame for the result. I wouldn’t say that I know Nick extremely well: however, I know enough to rebut the caricature portrayed of him as running a closed off, distant and arrogant Number Ten. I am just a backbencher. However I was always able to text him, and he always made time to meet with me. Whether we discussed foreign affairs or domestic issues, Syria or apprenticeships, Nick was always incredibly professional, generous with his time and followed through whenever I took an idea to him. I’m sorry to see him go. But I would be even more sorry to see his ideas go with him too. The manifesto contained much that is worth defending, and much that the British people would be willing to support.
We now face a truly challenging period in our nation’s history. We already knew we had to take on an intense and difficult period of negotiations with the European Union, as we attempt to forge a new and beneficial relationship. Now we know that we must do this in the context of a minority Government.
However, we must also remember that, while the outcome of Britain’s exit from the European Union will affect all of us in the future, as it provides new challenges and unleashes new opportunities, many people in our country face challenges today. We cannot allow ourselves to focus on any one single issue, no matter how important it is. There is still so much else to do.
Luckily we still have the ideas, and the people in our party and in our Parliament to take on this task and succeed. Now’s the time for getting down to work, and starting down the path to success. It’s what the British people expect of us; it’s what the British people require of us. We can’t waste any time in getting on with the job.