The Daily Telegraph
The Tories need to build a patriotic popular movement to beat the Left
Labour has used new media to repackage old socialist dogma into ideas that seem fresh and fair
There’s no point in beating around the bush: the Government is up to its neck in trouble. Still struggling to come to terms with its weakened position, it is at the same time trying to deliver on the biggest challenge since the Second World War. The job of extricating our country from the EU would be a back-breaking task for even the strongest administration.
The Government’s response is to find common ground and work collaboratively across the House of Commons. This is a sensible approach, but there is a danger that the desire for compromise looks like entrenched weakness. Yes, the public wants politicians to work together, but it also requires the elected Government to provide strong leadership, particularly in such challenging times.
The Government’s fragility encourages endless talk of another election, and the Labour Party is already campaigning, with Jeremy Corbyn spending the summer touring marginal Conservative seats and galvanising his support base. Realistically, how can the Government begin the fight back? The summer recess needs to be spent achieving two things that will provide the foundation for a resurgence.
First, the party needs a new national movement that brings together people from all parts of our country and society who believe it is their duty to stop Britain voting Marxists into power. Secondly, it must generate appealing and popular Right-of-centre policies that provide a clear direction, at least over the next two years.
On the first point, many in the Conservative Party have been aware for some time that our ground operation has been disintegrating at an alarming rate. There is little or no growth in Conservative Party activism, partly because the party lacks an effective and motivating call to arms. By contrast, the Labour Party boasts a hugely increased membership and the hard-left campaigning organisation Momentum, which now claims around 23,000 members and the ability to call on 200,000 supporters.
From my experience in Reading East and that of former colleagues, Momentum had a significant impact at the election. They got serious numbers of campaigners out on doorsteps. In my constituency it led to a mismatch of resources. Momentum has become a movement that has reinvigorated and motivated the hard-left to bring down the Government, by whatever means necessary.
Momentum and Labour’s Marxist leadership have managed to use new media to repackage old socialist dogma into ideas that seem fresh and fair to young people, including many university-educated professionals. Young people are then championing these rehashed, failed ideas in passionate, sometimes intemperate, but mostly engaging ways. By associating themselves with political positions that make them appear more compassionate and caring, they believe themselves to be more virtuous in any debate. How do you argue with a generation that has an unwavering confidence in the righteousness of its arguments? This degree of certainty in a failed Leftwing philosophy has created a considerable tension between the generations.
Momentum is something the Conservatives must respond to over the summer. The party needs its own motivating and galvanising movement: one that is a national endeavour stimulated by a patriotic duty to save our country and economy from the dangers of Labour’s Marxist cabal; one that can inspire a new generation of activists from all parties and none, providing an antidote to the hard-left, regressive message of Momentum.
Resisting and debunking a failed ideology is one thing, but the new organisation also needs to have a positive, constructive and compelling vision for the future. Damian Green, the Prime Minister’s First Secretary of State, should lead the hunt across departments for policy ideas that would be popular across the country. He should be thinking big, being sensible and trying to capture a sense of excitement that will allow a Conservative Government to stake out the ground on which it feels comfortable. It’s not that difficult.
Here are a few proposals. On the economy: end national wage settlements in the public sector; devolve financial powers to cities and city regions; simplify the tax system and merge NI and income tax. On housing: offer a guarantee that every first-time buyer under 30 will have the opportunity to buy a home at cost price and on a competitive lowest offer mortgage. On public services: create a READ MORE at telegraph.co.uk/ opinion raft of new mutuals, for example a public option for energy consumers. On tuition fees: those universities that charge £9,000 annually for three-year courses must offer the same courses over two years. On health: allow volunteers to be fully trained and integrated into all parts of patient support in hospitals.
The harder part is to then build these policies into a theme for government that will resonate with the country at large. There will be one opportunity for success: the autumn party conference. After that the message needs to carried onto the doorsteps and disseminated across social media by a new band of highly enthused activists.
These policies should generate such strong attachment that they can be put to the vote in the House of Commons, even at the risk of defeat. Alex Salmond ran a successful minority government in Scotland and was very good at daring opponents to fight on his preferred ground. He delivered the Scottish Nationalists a majority at the following election. This shows that governments with small majorities, even minorities, are not bound to fail. But they are likely to fail if they are too timid, or are unable to make compelling arguments in support of their policies.
We should not forget that most of the country does not want Britain led by a Marxist. It’s imperative that the Conservative Party stops feeling sorry for itself and implements a strategy to resist the advance of the hard Left. The party must inspire its own national movement so that it can completely reshape the political landscape.