Iain Duncan Smith is a former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, founded the Centre for Social Justice, and is MP for Chingford and Woodford Green.
It is impossible at the moment for two or more Conservatives to gather together without immediately and at some length discussing the recent election. I say ‘discuss’, but that part only follows when the group’s agreed list of Anglo-Saxon expletives and colourful adjectives is exhausted and calm descends on the company. Whilst there is often agreement about many of the more negative reasons, there is less about what we should do going ahead. This is more likely because the results in different parts of the country were seldom uniform.
As John Curtice pointed out recently, the Conservatives in some areas made big strides in gaining what he referred to as blue collar workers, whilst he showed, in other areas, we lost support from more middle class voters who previously voted Conservative. London was, as I wrote during the election, very different from the rest of the UK and requires particularly careful analysis.
However, all this important work which now needs to go on in understanding the result and then rebuilding around that result, so that we have a better chance of winning the next general election, will need a little time. Importantly, we will only get that if we realise what a precarious position we are in and just how important it is that we do not do anything to precipitate an election.
Labour will use anything and everything to sow discord and panic in our ranks, and we need to be smart enough to spot it and counter it rather than react to it. Look at the terrible human tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire; notwithstanding the need for consideration, within days Labour were relentlessly using it for their own ends. Angry marches on Downing Street, a “day of rage”, and John McDonnell whipping up hatred against the Conservatives when he said the tower fire was “murder”. This is the nature of the Labour Party now. We must recognise that that there are great similarities with the angry and very left wing Labour Party that became dominated by Militant in the 1980’s. I can recall the same tactics being used, with all the same bile and personal abuse we have seen during this election.
This, in turn, requires that we keep calm in the face of such provocation and recognise that we simply don’t have the scope for enormous internal rows amongst ourselves. Take the deal with the DUP. It is almost certainly not to everyone’s liking, yet it needed to be done. The idea that we should have just assumed the DUP would have been with us on key votes simply isn’t living in the real world. Precarious as it is at present, just imagine how complicated getting business through would have been if chunks of time were taken up with endless negotiations at every turn. After all, this is not a coalition but an arrangement. Such deals are commonplace in other advanced economies to enable governments to carry on. It also reflects the pressing need to get all the legislation on leaving the EU through the House of Commons with the minimum of fuss. For, as the deadline for departure draws nearer, we will need to be clear that we can complete the process, and this can only be done if we are secure in the knowledge we have the votes.
But this rule also applies to the Cabinet. The flurry of comments concerning public spending plans and the pay cap in advance of the pay review bodies’ recommendations were, I fear, self-indulgent and, as such, pointless.
First, whilst we may believe we know why we didn’t win an outright majority, it does us no good to arrive at the solution based solely on conjecture and speculation. For whilst I, like everyone else, hold strong opinions on the matter, I would like to see those opinions backed up by a clear understanding of the facts.
Second, it is as important to understand why nearly 43 per cent of the electorate voted for us despite such a poor campaign, before we jump to conclusions; after all, it was the largest vote share we have received since 1992. Third, whatever we decide we need to do, we must first recognise that a reputation for economic competence is hard-gained and easily lost. If you don’t believe me, look at how long it took us to regain it after 1997. The economy is still not out of the woods and the deficit is already set to rise later this year.
In essence, I believe the first thing we need is time and we can only get that if we all recognise it requires a level of self-discipline which will certainly test our patience. The second is that we need to use that time to re-organise, to understand the nature of the vote on 8th June, and then to act on it in a way that accentuates the nature of the choice the electorate will face when the next election comes around. We need to have the scrutiny turned on Corbyn and Labour, and that can only happen once our political situation as a Government appears more stable.
None of that is easy, but the alternative – an angry, militant and deceitful Labour government led by such class warriors as Corbyn and McDonnell, and their brand of the politics of envy, is what awaits this country if we get it wrong.