Short-termism is a curse, if an understandable one. Human nature, the simple fact that you can see even meagre rewards secured today but only imagine those greater dividends which might come a generation down the line, has an unfortunate tendency to prefer the short term and neglect the long.
It strikes many areas of life, but the Conservative Party seems particularly vulnerable to this flaw. Of course our most pressing priority is to win a majority in 2015 – the nation cannot afford another term of Labour’s high debt, high tax joy-riding – but work should also be underway to address the long-term, structural problems which will otherwise blight election campaigns ten or twenty years down the line.
This isn’t a hypothetical threat. We’re suffering today from the short-termism of our predecessors.
In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, the Conservative Party should have realised there was a huge political opportunity to embrace and recruit hard-working, family-oriented, community-minded voters from new immigrant populations. Those arriving were doing so as part of an expressly aspirant act, bringing with them often deeply conservative values.
However, Conservatives allowed the Labour Party to establish a norm that Labour “owned” the ethnic minority vote – worse, some Conservatives sought the short-term electoral gains of attracting anti-immigrant votes, actively driving these new arrivals into the arms of the Left. The alienation is yet to dissipate.
We will suffer in 2015 from the short-sightedness (and in some cases bigotry) of that generation of Conservative politicians. As the FT reported yesterday, the Conservatives won just 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote in 2010. That’s a stark contrast from the Canadian Conservatives, who now secure a higher proportion of the vote among those born outside the country than they do nationally.
Structural electoral problems take a long time, and a lot of hard work, to overcome – and we have more than a few to grapple with. The Tory decline in urban, working class areas outside the South East (as David Skelton studied in yesterday’s Telegraph). The growing gender gap, in which women are far less likely to vote Conservative than men. The troublingly low vote share we win among ethnic minorities. The fall in party membership, and thus in the power to project our message on the ground.
Action will rightly be taken to try to address some of these problems during the 2015 election campaign – some progress may be made, but each of them is so deeply embedded and so sizeable that there is no way they can be completely overcome in such a short space of time.
Long-term effort for gain years down the line doesn’t always come naturally in our political culture, but it should. We argue every day that fiscal austerity is essential in order to leave a better economic legacy for our children and grandchildren – why should our approach to our political and electoral inheritance be any different?
As well as fighting elections now, we should also be working at these issues in order to win elections years down the line. As Conservatives, we ought to believe in responsibility to future generations, in doing what’s right for the long-term as well as what is convenient or comfortable today. Not all of our predecessors lived up to that – and as the generation paying the price for those mistakes, we have a responsibility not to repeat them.
That means working to secure victory in 2030, right now.