What Next for the Conservative Party?

BY TIM DAWSON

The local elections are over and – although I was naturally shocked at not overturning the mere 1464 majority in inner-city Hulme that would have swept me into Manchester Town Hall – the picture across the country was rosier than many predicted. Despite the prattling from Owen Jones et al, Labour did surprisingly poorly, and the Conservatives remain the largest party of local government by some way. There is little to suggest Jeremy Corbyn is on course for a general election victory, recently backed up by numerous polls giving the Tories a 1-5% lead. Although the results were excellent for a sitting Government 8 years into its tenure, this seems more to do with antipathy towards the direction of Labour than any particular endorsement of May’s government.

It’s easy to say the Conservatives shouldn’t be complacent – but the Conservatives really, really shouldn’t be complacent. If Labour were to suddenly see the light and get their act together, or a viable centre-left party somehow pieced together from the ashes of Blairism and the orange book Lib Dems, the Conservatives would be in trouble, facing serious ’97 style wipeout in some areas. The fact is: a good deal of Conservative support is simply anti-Corbynism. Admittedly, the sudden appearance of an electable centre-left party is doubtful, but, with the bookies suggesting a 2019 leadership election is likely, we must start thinking about where we go next. Brexit is a golden opportunity for the country and also for the British centre-right.

It is quite clear that the next party to win a majority in a General Election will need to reach out beyond the confines of the referendum, and beyond their traditional voter bases. They will need to offer a confident, bold recipe, anchored in the 21st Century, and focussed on the future. This means moving beyond Labour’s class warfare; beyond the referendum result; and beyond the extremely tiresome identity politics which fixates the student and middle-class left. We are a multi-cultural, multi-racial country – where people rightly expect to be treated equally as individuals regardless of gender, race or sexuality – and the next party to form a majority will need to reflect that. Wherever you sit on the political spectrum, it is too easy to be seduced by nostalgia, and that means we spend too much time refighting historic battles, rather than focussing on now. The question is where we take our country after we’ve left the EU – and, whilst of course, we should learn from the past, the answer does not lie in the 70s, 80s, 90s or any other decade.

Even if it means leaving hard-line Remainers or unreconstructed social authoritarians behind, it’s time to park the old debates. Once Brexit is complete, the Conservatives should conspicuously reframe themselves around a bold, optimistic programme of economic, social and cultural liberalism. Corbyn and McDonnell are stale and uninspiring, but we must resist the temptation to fight anachronism with anachronism. We have fresh, outward-looking MPs coming through – Kemi Badenoch, Rory Stewart, Bim Afolami, James Cleverly and Paul Masterton to name a few. We have an excellent potential London Mayoral candidate in Syed Kamall. Brexit – and the enormous opportunities it affords us – is a once-in-a-generation chance to shunt the conservatives forward, and to firmly defeat the Corbyn Project, with all its arcane prejudices and arcane dogma that are clogging up our national politics.

The fundamentals are on our side. Younger people, when you look at the evidence, are not actually the Red Flag-waving Marxists the hard left and academic indoctrinators report them to be. Oh, sure – there is a militant grouping of hard-line Remainer-Corbynites who march around trying to overthrow capitalism – as long as their militancy doesn’t take them too far from their iPhones or Starbucks. Though they may not realise it, even this rump are committed economic liberals, favouring freedom of choice and innovation over state control. They do not want to pay more tax, they want to pay less. They do not want to be told what to do. They do not, essentially, want Jeremy Corbyn to paint the door to number 10 red any more than older Conservatives do. Despite the Left’s determination to try and split the generations, there is a broad agreement across the population that free market liberalism is better than John McDonnell’s cabbage soup economy.

There is still some way to go, however, in convincing everyone we want to vote Conservative that we are genuinely socially liberal. Obviously, we can point out gay marriage, we can point out Corbyn’s own hypocrisy on LGBT issues, we can point to our excellent record in promoting BAME people and women entirely on merit, but so far this has not cut-through sufficiently. We need to find a new way of tackling the left’s tiresome Identity Politics, which takes up so much of everybody’s time. We need to re-entrench our commitment to personal freedom: be what you want to be, do what you want to do, eat what you want to eat. This line is frustrated when we recourse to nanny-statism: the sugar tax, for example, was damaging because it reinforced the idea of a government which wants to needlessly meddle; the attempts to frustrate usage of legal adult sites or junk food consumption, are equally unattractive. Economic and social liberalism should be spiritual partners, with one attitude informing the other. And there is an added advantage to this position: unapologetic social and economic liberalism will be the best way to reassure remain voters that our future is an open, global one. This is not about recreating 1950, it’s about gearing up for 2050. Let’s show the world how it’s done.

Finally, we must re-insert conservative perspectives into our cultural institutions. The Arts, Universities, and the BBC have become dominated by Socialist ideology. Whilst it’s arguable that creatives and academics have always leaned to the left, by rigidly pursuing one exclusionary ideology, intellectual freedom is being stifled, and vast numbers of people are being secluded from our cultural life. This is not only wrong but unsustainable: a country which celebrates diversity of gender, race and sexuality should be keen to encourage diversity of thought. Progress lies in freedom, invention and imagination, not in intellectual and creative conformity. A vision centred around economic and social liberalism should not feel there are any areas of British public life where the battle of ideas cannot be fought. There should be no “no-go” areas.

Ultimately, this will need fresh policies. Liberalising planning laws; lowering taxes on small businesses and sole traders; lowering VAT; empowering individuals, families and friendship groups; reassessing drugs policy; treating people as adults who can make free choices, rather than clients of the state who need to be told what to do. And we could be even bolder: what about making overtime tax free for anyone doing over 40 hours a week? What about scrapping pension relief and using the money saved to totally transform the tax burden for the least well off? Giving all workers a tax cut would be huge and it would be most meaningful to the young and the poor – because it would make the biggest difference to their incomes. Conservatives are naturally suspicious of big government, of the bureaucrat – let’s not be pusillanimous about this. The EU referendum was a rejection of all-powerful apparatchiks – we need to harness this spirit and remove the burdens of government, not add to them. With Labour mired in Corbynism, the Conservatives have a unique opportunity to galvanise the country around an optimistic, uplifting and bold agenda. We must seize it.

After launching himself into a successful screenwriting career with BBC3 comedy ‘Coming of Age’, which was commissioned when he was just 19 years old, Tim Dawson became ‘Broadcast Hot Shot’ in the 2008 Industry Magazine. Whilst he saw his TV series run for three successful seasons (2007-2011) he also lent his hand to writing for ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’ starring Ralph Little and star of stage and screen Sheridan Smith. At the recent local elections Tim stood for the inner-city Hulme ward in Manchester. 

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