Conservative parties around the world prospered after the financial crisis. But to prevail now, the Tories need to tell a more optimistic story.by Tim Montgomerie / January 22, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Voters know what to do in tough times. By 45 per cent to 9 per cent, they trust the Conservatives to take tough decisions, and so they vote Tory. And in happier times? They vote Labour because they think “its heart is in the right place.” Fifty-two per cent think the Conservatives appeal to one section of society rather than to the whole country. Only 20 per cent think the same of Labour. The pattern has asserted itself again and again. Britain embraced Winston Churchill as a war leader, but rejected him for Clement Attlee in 1945 when the nation wanted to “win the peace.” Britons wanted Margaret Thatcher rather than James Callaghan in 1979 to tackle union militancy, but by 1997 they wanted Tony Blair to “save the NHS” and invest in public services. In 2010 they turned towards David Cameron to avert a debt crisis. But what about the coming general election?
The poll in May will be a “no man’s land” election—somewhere between tough times and a more hopeful mood of leaving recession behind. The Prime Minister has, appropriately in one sense, been sending out mixed signals. He says that many tough decisions lie ahead, but he’s simultaneously promising tax cuts for the middle class, extra money for the National Health Service and massive investments in new roads and railways. Giveaways had always been planned as part of the Tories’ re-election bid, but so had elimination of the deficit—and that hasn’t been achieved, which should have meant a recalibration of their re-election strategy.
My advice to Cameron is to pick up urgently some of the lessons from those who have won in tough times, and staple them to ideas about a more optimistic—and yes, compassionate—conservatism that he was once well placed to offer voters, although he has muddied the message since.
Cameron should from the start have emulated Stephen Harper, leader of Canada’s Conservatives and Prime Minister since 2006, re-elected with an increased majority in 2011. Harper embodies the tough times conservatism that has enjoyed electoral success around the world since the global financial crisis began in 2007.