Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
What ‘certain type of person’ reads ConservativeHome? Are you a member, activist, or an aspiring Conservative Party candidate? Are you a deplorable Brexiteer, or a strong supporter of a second referendum? Are you a low tax, free market-loving Thatcherite, or wish that David Cameron would return to save us all? Perhaps you’ve clicked on this article out of curiosity, or merely to write ‘you’re the worst’ or ‘go back home to Australia’ in the comment section. Maybe it’s your job to keep up with the latest political news.
If you are reading this, however, as someone who is a supporter of the Conservative Party in one way or another, then we have something in common. We both care enough about the country to get involved. That’s why I was confused by Amber Rudd’s comments on BBC Question Time last week. What did she mean by referring to a ‘certain type of person’ who “supports Conservative Home”? Conservative activists and voters? The people who give up their free time to knock on doors around the country, and take the heat for the Government’s failure to deliver Brexit?
Earlier this year, I met with a local Conservative Association in London, through the Conservative Policy Forum. We were there to discuss how the Conservative Party can restore faith in public institutions. The whole room was in agreement that the answer was simple: delivering on the Conservative Manifesto. I doubt the minutes of our meeting would be taken into serious consideration by the Party leadership, but I still wanted to meet and speak to activists about their experience on the doorstep.
One lady explained to me how awful it would be to have now to return to the same households she spoke with during the election. She told those families that the Conservative Party were going to deliver Brexit. What could she say to them now? Breaking manifesto commitments doesn’t just make MPs look bad. It’s a betrayal of all those who campaigned for and knocked on doors for those promises. It’s an insult to those ‘certain type’ of people – who care enough to fight for the things that this party is supposed to stand for.
Andrew Kennedy is another ‘certain type of person’ who reads ConservativeHome: indeed, he is former columnist for it. Andrew is one of the Party’s most experienced election agents; he has seven parliamentary elections and almost 2,500 local council candidates under his belt. He’s given 30 years of his life to campaigning for Conservative candidates in the hope that they deliver on the pledges they make to their constituents.
An argument is made that because the party won no clear majority, Theresa May cannot be expected to deliver on the promises that she made to the electorate, particularly in regards to Brexit. But imagine for a moment that instead of the Chequers proposal, the Prime Minister had outlined a Canada-style Free Trade Agreement. Imagine if the Prime Minister has appointed a Chancellor who was pro-Brexit, and therefore more willing to spend money preparing for a No Deal scenario. There have been several bad decisions made by the Conservative leadership that cannot be blamed on Parliamentary arithmetic.
I’ve also heard the argument that it’s naive to expect politicians to implement each and every promise made on the doorstep. I don’t think anyone really believes that a Government can implement an entire manifesto, down to the last footnote. But surely we should expect the Government to implement the most important and central promise made to the electorate – namely, delivering a clean Brexit.
Political change doesn’t happen without the hard work and dedication of thousands of foot soldiers knocking on doors and making phone calls. It saddens me that those who put themselves forward to take the bullets for the party are so often disregarded and ignored. And it surely can’t surprise the Government that many of those activists who believe in implementing the referendum result are now volunteering and/or voting for the Brexit Party.
I thought it showed exceptionally poor judgement for the Party to launch a website naming and shaming Conservative MPs who had voted against the Prime Ministers’ deal. Many of these MPs voted against the deal because it contradicted the Conservative Manifesto, but in return the party leadership seeks to punish them.
It doesn’t matter what ‘certain type of person’ you are: if you volunteer your time to help elect a Government, and that Government doesn’t follow through on the promises they made, you’re unlikely to be very happy with the leadership.
It’s often hinted that the grassroots are out of touch with the public, and that Conservative MPs should ignore their views and instead pursue a more ‘reasonable’ compromise on Brexit. But actually, I don’t think the Conservative grassroots are out of touch with the public on this one. And if the next Conservative leader fails to recognise that, then we’re in big trouble.