Nicky Morgan is a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
There are times when none of us want to be politicians. This is particularly true when an unspeakable event, outside our immediate control and comprehension, such as the Grenfell Tower disaster happens. Cool heads know that there is no useful immediate response other than practical co-ordinating work on the ground, acknowledging the scale of the tragedy, expressing horror and solidarity and, whenever necessary, apologising. But cool heads don’t always prevail in the heated environment after a tragedy.
In my last column a fortnight ago, I wrote that the recent election campaign had been the most unpleasant I could remember. Sadly, the result has not stemmed that nastiness in our politics and, indeed, is making it worse. Socialist Worker Party supporters shouting slogans won’t help the Grenfell Tower victims, but will drown out their very real grievances and questions.
One of their demands has been better communication and co-ordination of a relief effort. I haven’t been on the ground in West London, and it is easy to demand more from outside. But in an era in which communications flow around the world in seconds, it is understandable that those affected feel they aren’t getting all the information they should.
I know from my time in government that there is an official tendency to say nothing if the bureaucracy feels there is nothing that can usefully be said. But good and swift communication, even if it is necessarily limited, matters – so it is up to elected representatives, whether they are local councillors or government ministers, to challenge this tendency.
This disaster came just as Westminster was trying to digest the inconclusive election result. I wouldn’t normally quote Alastair Campbell, but he has been clear, as have other Labour politicians, that Corbyn and Labour did not win the election. The Conservatives are the largest party, with significantly more seats than Labour and the largest share of the vote since 1983. But, in the system that we have, that didn’t lead to a majority Government.
In my work on character education one of the traits most needed in our pupils is self-efficacy – the belief that anyone can change their own circumstances. The other trait which schools that prioritise character strive to instil in their pupils is to make them take responsibility for their own behaviour and attitudes.
The Conservative Party needs those traits now. We have two options.
First, we take those parts of our manifesto and previous programme of government from which we can build a consensus, or where action is urgently needed, and get on with them. And we do so in a way which creates hope, optimism and a sense of a coherent vision. On Monday, in answer to a question I put to her about the likely contents of the Queen’s Speech, the Prime Minister talked og implementing the changes our manifesto proposed to the Mental Health Act and the expansion of technical education.
I’d add starting the Brexit negotiations in a manner which puts protecting jobs and growth first, setting out a clear plan for the economy, implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act, rolling out childcare reforms which make the greatest difference to social mobility, tackling social care and getting more houses built. These are all policies which MPs from other parties (including the DUP) could support, with careful consensus-building across the Commons.
As part of this option, the Conservative Party, led by CCHQ and the Policy Board, needs to take a long hard look at our recent election campaign, and work out what we can rapidly learn from it in terms of techniques and messages.
The second option is that the Conservative Party stops believing in itself and allows others, namely John McDonnell and the hard left, to take control of the political narrative. This would be unforgivable.
The first option is there for the taking, and appointments such as Damian Green’s are a positive sign. The election result was unexpected, but politics is about dealing with the unexpected. A positive programme is available for the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister: we must step forward to claim it.