Tory optimism needed to clean up Theresa May’s mess

The Cabinet is locked in guerrilla warfare, the Prime Minister is wounded and will never regain her political authority, worse still the Conservative Party activist base has crumbled to ruin, we need a plan and we need it now, argues Steven George-Hilley

Reignite the fire? Theresa May in an upbeat mood on Marr
Steven George-Hilley
On 3 October 2017 12:49

The consequences of the unnecessary and appallingly executed Conservative election campaign in June will haunt the party for the rest of its time in government. The result was both disastrous and tragic.

Disastrous because the advisers and consultants running it tried to hoodwink the electorate and blag their way to an undeserved majority.

Tragic because, astonishingly, after many years in power, the Conservatives had a glowing record on employment and economic growth to sell to a sceptical electorate.

The post-mortem on the campaign will be discussed in the corridors and bars of Manchester’s Midland Hotel by the party’s weary activist base. The excuses I’ve heard so far are comical at best.

They include, ‘Theresa doesn’t like media scrutiny,’ she’s apparently ‘not very good at making decisions’ without Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill and struggles to ‘communicate her emotions to the public’.

Then why, oh why, did she decide to run for the job of Prime Minister?

On that rationale, perhaps I should try and become a Professor of Mathematics or a Nuclear Physicist?

Oh wait, I’m rubbish at science, poor at maths, not very analytical, and those roles would be totally unsuited to me.

The saddest party of this tragedy is that Theresa May does have a personality and indeed a dry sense of humour. We saw a glimmer of it on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show; the Prime Minister seemed much warmer, more confident and at peace with herself after what can only be defined as a traumatic few months.

I’ve read in the papers that CCHQ were ‘laughing’ at Labour’s manifesto, when it was unveiled by Jeremy Corbyn just weeks before the election.

I wasn’t laughing – it was colourful, sharply worded, memorable and very easy to share on social media. No wonder he kept waving it around at every single rally and debate.

A good communications consultant would have spotted the danger. Time should have been taken to unpick Corbyn’s impossible promises and identify the risk they posed to the economy and the most vulnerable in society. That didn’t happen because the Tory manifesto was never costed; a castration of the obvious line that ‘Labour’s sums don’t add up’.

The Tory manifesto was a miserable and boring affair. Delivered without excitement or relish and lacking the kind of eye-catching initiatives the next generation will talk about and share over Twitter and Facebook.

One of the reasons the Tories got away with the monotonous ‘Long-term economic plan’ narrative in 2015 was that David Cameron was already firmly established as a likeable and popular family man, more so than his party.

Running the same campaign strategy, ‘Strong and stable’ on an untested candidate who looked uncomfortable in public, and had little emotional capital with voters sent poll ratings into terminal decline.

May’s predicament wasn’t helped by the brutal sacking of former Chancellor George Osborne. I understand he discovered it was being reported on the news that he had been ‘fired’ a short while after the meeting with her. That was unnecessary, unfair and politically stupid.

Can Osborne be bitchy and spiteful? So I hear; he is known for his cutting comments. Yet differences aside, It is hard to argue against the notion that he and Cameron galvanised a new, liberal, vote share, helping the Tories make inroads into cities and more liberal seats.

May also suffered because of structural issues with activists groups, including the RoadTrip 2015 campaign which toxified the youth wing.

In a foolish overreaction to this, the party’s youth wing, Conservative Future, was abolished two years ago. This has starved the party of an influx of new talent and stunted recruitment and campaigning, severely. The Young Britons Foundation (YBF) has closed and the popular Team 2015 bus strategy has been axed.

So how do the Conservatives get out of this mess?

Theresa May cannot go on forever, but she does seem more confident and in a better place to guide the party forward. She needs to deliver a stunning speech to the country, placing a heavy emphasis on her party’s success story and what it intends to do to create a stronger economy and a more equal society.

Activists need to hear the positive case for Conservatism. Creating opportunity, changing people’s lives, empowering those with the least and enabling them to reach the top. The Prime Minister must also show she supports and listens to new grassroots groups like Reignite and values their opinions. 

This is also the party that introduced equal marriage, promoted recycling and sustainability, backed international development and introduced the Help to Buy scheme. Theresa May kicked out the hate preachers, fought for the Hillsborough inquiry and promised to stand up for those at the very bottom of society.

Government can do so much good, but only with sound finances and clear objectives.

The Conservatives have a compelling record and such an exciting vision for the future of the country.

Can they please start talking about it?

Steven George-Hilley is a director at the Parliament Street think tank and founder of Centropy PR 

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