Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Last week, Australians went to the polls in a general election. Media commentators and politicos all predicted a humiliating defeat for the Australian Liberal Party. I did my bit handing out leaflets outside Australia House, but most of us were preparing for a Labor victory.
When Malcolm Turnbull was replaced by Scott Morrison last year, the Liberals were in a dire state. There’s a natural cycle in politics, and the consensus was that it was Labor’s turn to govern. Turnbull’s middle of the road, centrist approach had failed to capture the hearts and minds of the nation. But there were still those on the left of the Liberal party who maintained Turnbull had the right approach, and that Morrisson couldn’t possibly win an election by appealing to the party faithful.
They were wrong. Morrison turned things around, with good policies and a good campaign. Instead of trying to appeal to voters by moving further towards the left, the party moved to the right. Instead of putting forward ‘Labor light’ policies, the party offered a genuine alternative.
The election victory was partly down to Morrison’s strong performance throughout the campaign. He’s what Australians would describe as a ‘good Aussie bloke’, and was just as comfortable eating a meat pie in Queensland as he was debating tax policy on national TV. Morrison’s very public affection for his family made him endearing to voters as well. Of course having a family or being public with one’s family shouldn’t be a prerequisite to winning an election, but I think in Morrison’s case it simply showed his human side.
Now, I’m not sure how well it would go down if Conservative MPs in Britain started eating meat pies and wearing baseball caps. I’m aware that there are some key cultural differences between our two countries. But I do believe there are some lessons to be learnt from this election, which I would advise any hopeful leadership candidate to bear in mind. Here are my top tips for Tory leadership hopefuls.
1. Talk up the country
One of the reasons the Remain campaign did so poorly during the EU referendum was that their entire campaign message was premised on Britain’s inability to thrive as an independent nation. Throughout the campaign, voters were told that this country is not important or strong enough to succeed without the help of the EU. On the Leave side, there was optimism and belief in Britain.
Of course, you need more than optimism and belief to successfully run a country. You also need good policies. But now, more than ever, Britain does need a Prime Minister who isn’t afraid to stand up to the EU.
Given that Morrison was previously managing director of Tourism Australia, talking up the country was never a problem. Australians knew that when push comes to shove, he wouldn’t let Australia be humiliated in trade negotiations, or ever talk the country down.
At this pivotal moment in British history, the country needs a leader who really does believe that Britain can thrive outside the EU. If the next Tory leader wants to win people over, they need to talk up the country.
2. Listen to the somewheres
After the referendum, David Goodhart hypothesised that Britain is divided into ‘anywheres’ and ‘somewheres’ – and that these groups have different values and beliefs. ‘Anywhere’s dominate the media and politics, are more international in outlook; ‘somewheres’ value in group loyalty and are rooted in their local region. It’s an interesting take on the divide between regional Britain and cosmopolitan London. Matthew Lesh wrote a similar book highlighting this same divide in Australia.
This analysis is generalised, but I think there is some truth in it. Society needs both ‘anywheres’ and ‘somewheres’ – but as those who lean towards cosmopolitan internationalism have dominated public discourse, the opinions and priorities of the ‘somewheres’ has often been overlooked.
Instead of appealing only to those in metropolitan areas, Morrison listened to the ‘somewheres’ of Australia. Families who just want to get ahead with their lives, and don’t want to be forced to pay more tax or have their energy bills go through the roof.
The next Conservative leader should listen to the somewheres – as well as the anywheres – especially when it comes to Brexit.
3. Don’t offer ‘Labour light’
The election in Australia was all about tax. The Labor Party recycled their usual anti business class warfare rhetoric, and proposed higher taxes on nearly everything – retirees, housing, income, investments, family businesses, electricity and cars. By contrast, the Liberal Party was committed to keeping energy bills down and tax cuts for smaller businesses and for families.
This election proved that the policies most commonly associated with Conservative political parties – for example, cutting taxes! – are not only the best policies for the country, but also incredibly popular.
However, the Conservative Party’s recent reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity has been to shift towards the left. We’re told that cutting taxes is unpopular, and that pro-growth, pro-business policies will lose an election. But in Australia, economic freedom won the day. The next leader of the party would be wise to offer a free market alternative to socialism.
So in short, talk up the country, listen to the ‘somewheres’ outside the Westminster bubble – and cut taxes!