This blog was originally published on the Tory Reform Group website.
As the dust settles after last week’s utterly extraordinary election result, we jubilant Conservatives and bewildered pundits are rightly reflecting on the realignment of British politics and the composition of the Conservatives’ new voter base.
There can be no doubt that Friday morning ushered in a seismic change in Conservative politics. Extensive analysis of the new electoral map has already taken place, but it is worth reminding ourselves that the Conservative Party now holds seats in every corner of Britain, representing some communities we haven’t represented in 100 years. This is extraordinary progress considering that just ten short years ago our party was the party of the affluent shires. From Wimbledon to Wrexham, we are now literally a One Nation party.
Questions are rightly being raised about how Conservatives in office will maintain and expand this new and diverse coalition of voters. The Prime Minister is entirely correct to recognise that our support in seats like West Brom East, Blyth Valley and Bridgend is precarious. Life-long Labour voters lent us their vote this time in order to get Brexit done, and our challenge is to ensure these voters don’t simply return to Labour once the party elects a more palatable and competent leader.
At the same time, we need to establish a positive message for the millions of Conservative minded voters in the affluent, liberal and metropolitan areas who either voted for us through gritted teeth last week or went elsewhere. The fact that we demolished Labour’s Red Wall is of course fantastic, but we need to reflect on why we lost St Albans, Richmond Park and a number of Scottish seats, failed to win back Canterbury and Bath, came close to losing Wimbledon and Cheltenham and only won seats like High Peak by a whisker. Going forward we need to continue to craft a message which resonates with voters in vastly different constituencies.
Firming up our vast voter base is a nice challenge to have, but it is a crucially important challenge nonetheless. How do we meet it?
Some pundits have spoken about the irreconcilable world views of these two different camps. This view holds that the socially conservative working class north is entirely at odds with the liberal outlook of South West London, but this is a crude analysis and entirely mistaken. On the whole, it is isn’t social liberalism which working class communities bemoan – I am sure that I am not the only Conservative candidate who didn’t speak to a single voter who wanted to reverse the great progress we have made on LGBTQ or women’s rights – but something different.
In June 2016, these voters made clear that the economic status quo wasn’t working for them. They felt left behind and disconnected. They felt that their communities had been weakened and their prospects undermined. Social mobility was all well and good, but only for those who had gone to University or had a leg up. The election was a deafening echo of 2016.
The Conservative Party has never been a libertarian party, but we’ve all too often focused too heavily on the market while failing to recognise that the state can bolster rather that undermine the free market economy. The Prime Minister is right that the true meaning of being a Conservative is not to attach ourselves to a dogma, but to recognise pragmatically that the synergy that exists between the private and public sectors can produce transformational results. Our offering to these new Conservative constituencies needs to be rooted in this approach. As our manifesto promised, we should be willing to combine our well-placed commitment to free market capitalism with a preparedness to invest and use the levers of government to strengthen communities and families. Our new voters are expecting something more than unregulated markets, and we need to adapt to this.
Politics has been seen through a crude and distorted Brexit prism over the past three years, and in our Remain seats this has often perversely led to the perception that the Prime Minister is illiberal when it comes to social issues. We know that this couldn’t be further from the truth, and it is crucial that our brand is modernised in these areas.
To do this, we need to ensure that we remain an internationalist party. We need to do Brexit in a way which leaves us on friendly terms with our partners in the European Union while engaging fully in our international role beyond Europe. We need to shout loudly about the fantastic work the Government will be embarking on when it comes to climate change and fulfilling our international aid obligations. The new Government also has the space to be quite radical when it comes to equality and diversity, and the Prime Minister shouldn’t be reluctant to show he the same liberal Conservative that he was as Mayor of London.
There is nothing irreconcilable about our new voter base; we can walk and chew gum at the same time. For the sake of the country and our party, we need to stay true to our Disraelian One Nation principles of pragmatism, moderation and social justice. If we do, our ambitions as a party will know no bounds.