Eton mess to bread and butter pudding: A Tory future
The most frustrating thing about the current Conservative Party is that it is on the right side of the big arguments on tax, spending, welfare, crime and immigration. But it simply cannot defeat Labour without demonstrating that it is a party of the people
The local election results have been met with quiet grumbles from rank and file Conservative Party members, in a result made half-bearable by oddball Ed Miliband’s miserable performance at the ballot box. However the fact remains that Labour made serious and damaging gains into some key Tory bastions including London Boroughs such as Hammersmith and Fulham and my own stomping ground of Croydon.
Residents in these areas, who have enjoyed years of well managed finances, reduced Council Tax and good local government will find themselves stuck with Labour administrations which are itching to run up sky high debts and ruin all the hard work delivered over recent years.
Something is clearly wrong and the time has come for the Conservative Party to refocus on clear, core bread and butter issues that matter to working people, which is the only way to win a majority in 2015.
Despite clear improvements to the economy and rising living standards, the Conservatives are struggling to make breakthroughs with a core set of voters that are needed to win a majority. Part of this problem has been exacerbated by sloppy planning and a lack of engagement with the rising ethnic minority vote.
The assumption that simply selecting minority candidates for high profile seats will solve this problem is crass and totally underestimates the challenge ahead. The British people vote on values, not skin colour.
This means initiating genuine engagement programmes with these communities, including membership drives and community sessions to clearly communicate those core Conservative values of aspiration so as to win supporters and prevent minority voters choosing Labour by default, without any other options.
A recent poll from Lord Ashcroft also revealed that half of UKIP voters in the Local Elections were disenchanted Tories, a protest vote that ensured Labour victories in several key seats.
To see incompetent Labour politicians and, in my view, shameless political opportunists like scandal-prone Andrew Pelling elected into office and inflicted on the people of Croydon because the Conservative vote has been split by defectors is truly heart breaking.
To counter this, Conservative high command needs to immediately initiate a radical new approach to engaging and winning back UKIP defectors. The first step in this process is to stop insulting them. As a senior UKIP source pointed out to me recently, “You lot in the political establishment all gang up on us and that’s why more and more people vote for us.”
Unfortunately, the source was quite correct. The three-party attempt to crush UKIP has played into Nigel Farage’s hands, further enabling him to paint the Conservatives as out of touch with the man on the street.
This problem has been inflamed by an aloof and detached approach to grassroots activists from the very top of the party. Despite years of campaigning in the rain, snow and wind, Conservative activists across the country have suffered a series of insults from Tory high command, including being branded Swivel eyed-loons and the Turnip Taliban.
Such mistakes would never been made by the Labour Party which, to its credit, has managed to motivate and excite its base through a series of left-wing policies and praise for its membership.
A lack of proper planning on the ground has long been a problem for team Cameron which has instead all too often preferred to rely on good will and high profile speeches instead of building up and revering local activists who go out and meet voters on the doorstep.
The most frustrating thing about the current Conservative Party is that it is on the right side of the big arguments on tax, spending, welfare, crime and immigration. But it simply cannot defeat Labour without demonstrating that it is a party of the people and not the Etonian elite.
The time has come to turn the Eton Mess into a party that focusses on bread and butter issues and holds its activists in high regard: a party that should be the natural home of aspirational ethnic minorities and working class strivers with a positive but no-nonsense approach to the future of Britain.
David Cameron has indeed modernised our party for the better, but he will need to optimise and incentivise it to win a majority in 2015.
Steven George-Hilley is a director at the Parliament Street think tank and a Conservative Party activist
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