A reputation for efficient and competent governance has helped the Conservative Party set itself apart from the Labour Party, but the recent general election result and ensuing Government chaos means this reputation is waning, says Peter Bingle.
Margaret Thatcher once remarked that for government to be caring it was also essential to be efficient. Her point was very simple. The Left talks about caring without ever thinking about how to deliver efficient services. The Right understands that mouthing platitudes isn’t enough. Services have to be efficient to have any real impact.
Voters of every political persuasion expect Tory governments to be both efficient and competent. It is something which has traditionally differentiated Tory governments from those run by the Labour Party. Today, however, there is a risk that this is no longer the case. If the average voter was asked to describe the government it is unlikely that ‘competent’ would be the first word that sprung to mind!
This lack of competence plus no obvious signs of a compelling narrative is at the heart of the government’s current problems. It needs to be sorted and quickly.
Brexit may dominate life in the Westminster Village, but for the rest of us the reality is very different. Making ends meet with diminished resources is a daily problem for many voters. They want job security, higher wages and lower taxes. This should be written on the walls of every ministerial office.
In addition, voters who are inclined to vote Tory want to hear ministers talking about aspiration and rewarding hard work and thrift. They want more choice in education and higher standards of literacy and numeracy. They want quality healthcare and a system which offers real help for people with mental health problems. Again, this should be at the heart of the Tory narrative.
Voters no longer buy the argument that the government cares about policing when there are tens of thousands fewer police officers. The police and the other emergency services are just as important as our military in keeping us safe and looking after us in times of crisis. All good Tory messages in normal times. Tough decisions needed to be made during the economic crisis. We now live, however, in a post austerity world.
So, what has gone wrong? The obsession with Brexit seems to be preventing the government from governing. Voters expect the government to deliver on the result of the referendum. They also expect the government to deal effectively with the non-Brexit agenda. This isn’t happening.
So, the PM and her key advisers need to create a powerful, compelling and popular policy narrative. This is hopefully being prepared by the PM’s impressive Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell and First Secretary of State Damian Green and then announced to the faithful at the Tory Party conference. It needs to focus on mainstream issues which resonate with ordinary voters. Transgender reform has its place but …
The bedrock of Tory support across the country is the group of voters described as middle-class. Support their aspirations and reward their ambitions and they will turn out in their millions to vote for you. Yet successive Tory PMs seem obsessed with targeting voters who will never ever vote Tory. The last election decisively proved that. It is time for Ministers to learn the mantra: “Middle-Classes Rule OK!”
Ministerial collective responsibility needs to be restored and enforced by the Chief Whip. Thatcher would never have tolerated the extent of private media briefings by senior Cabinet Ministers. The solution is very simple. If they aren’t prepared to follow the agreed government position they should resign or be fired. Voters don’t like seeing Ministers briefing against each other.
Tory MPs also need to be read the riot act by Tarantula fan Chief Whip, Gavin Williamson. It is essential that Tory MPs play their part in showing the public that this is a competent government with a compelling policy agenda which will last five years. If individual Tory MPs become regular rebels the Whip should be withdrawn and the local Association told to deselect. It is time for realpolitik amongst Tory MPs.
Finally, the Tories need to relentlessly remind voters just how extreme Corbyn’s shadow ministerial team really is. The modern Labour leadership is not part of the political mainstream and yet Tory strategists have allowed the likes of John McDonnell to be treated as if he is. The Tory gloves need to come off.
The last general election marked the high point of Corbynism. It is unlikely he will do so well next time. Indeed, it is unlikely he will still be Labour Leader next time. So, all the Tories need to do is keep their nerve, start governing and reward and inspire their supporters. Is that really too difficult?