David Cameron leaves Downing Street. Photo: Getty Images
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Even in victory, the Conservatives must continue to reach out to Labour voters

The election victory is an opportunity to speak not just to those voters who re-elected the Tories, but to those who stuck with Labour, says Daniel Kawczynski.

Clement Attlee’s wife Violet was a staunch Conservative supporter. The most heart-rending note of condolence David Blunkett received when his guide dog Teddy died came from Margaret Thatcher. And it was Lord Tebbit, of all people, who took the trouble to praise Ed Balls for his magnanimity in defeat in the early hours of May 8.

It is still possible for grudging respect  – even real affection – to transcend party affiliations within the environs of Westminster, but it is today all too rare a quality. MPs who had seen service in the Second World War had a much greater sense of perspective – in the face of a common enemy, unbreakable bonds had been formed between Socialists and Tories – but, since then, the business of politics has become depressingly tribal, if not downright petty and mean-spirited. 

Blame it if you like on the emergence of the professional political classes – people who have held no jobs outside of politics and whose salaries and careers depend entirely on adherence to party lines on every issue – but it is quite clear that this degree of obsessive single-mindedness in the modern House of Commons by no means reflects the character of the electorate.

For that matter, I doubt if the country’s two most politically partisan “red top” newspapers – the Mirror and the Sun – can be said to talk for their readers, either, certainly not at all times, on every subject. Indeed, a Mirror journalist confided in me that her paper’s internal market research had shown how many of the paper’s readers were Ukip supporters. Stephen Glover, the media pundit, retailed an interesting statistic the other day based on a YouGov poll: the Daily Mail happens to have 464,000 Labour voters among its readers.

Even the most tribal MPs at Westminster must quietly have to concede that a whole succession of issues - like the Iraq war, the police’s handling of the Jean Charles De Menezes affair, not to mention Gordon Brown’s strident call for “British jobs for British workers” – have all in their different ways challenged the old certainties and perhaps made a nonsense of them. Just as Chekhov said that no individual can ever be seen in terms of black and white, but only, at best, varying shades of grey, so, too, few, if any, of the people MPs represent these days can be categorised as being either perpetually red or blue.

So one can see why David Cameron is reviving the idea of “One Nation” Conservatism – he wants to lead a party that champions not just its own interests, but the whole country’s. This makes sense politically as well as emotionally. I think now more than ever that the Conservative Party – brought to office with 36.9 per cent of the electorate behind us – must reach out to Labour voters. Her Majesty’s Opposition, now seeking a new leader to succeed Ed Miliband, is plainly struggling to re-connect with popular public opinion.

Labour seemed to be aware during the last election that a lot of their policies were unpopular – certainly for anyone who wanted to improve his or her lot in life – but they were arrogant enough to believe that their brand was sufficiently strong that people would vote for them anyway. They were like an old-fashioned department store obliviously restocking their shelves with the same old lines that people had stopped buying at least a decade ago.

A party that was more responsive would have seen how the people they could normally count on for support had changed. The old moulds had been broken. I spoke on doorsteps in my own constituency during the last election to traditional Labour voters who did not believe, for instance, in increasing the national debt, who were not uncritical friends of the NHS, who had concerns about what they saw as a benefits culture that made laziness an all too easy option, and who wanted for themselves simply to get on in life without the State telling them peremptorily what to do. These were the people to whom Miliband had made absolutely no concessions.  

These people often possessed a view that must have appeared equally counter-intuitive to the Labour strategists on immigration. Gillian Duffy, the Labour voter from Rochdale, raised this issue in a way that was measured and reasonable when Gordon Brown so memorably encountered him during the 2010 general election campaign.  Ed Miliband’s inner circle was adamant, however, that nobody like Mrs Duffy should be allowed within a hundred miles of their man during the last campaign, a fact that I would contend showed to what extent they were in denial about what a lot of their core voters were thinking. These were the ones who believed, too, that their party had a Teflon coating that would make it completely resistant to Ukip on polling day: how wrong they turned out to be.

I believe therefore that the Prime Minister has a historic opportunity to embrace all those people who are, at least for now, out of sync with Labour and effectively disenfranchised – thoughtful, decent, patriotic citizens whose over-riding wish is to see the country run with compassion and humanity, but who reserve the right to think for themselves and reckon we can all do a lot more good in the world if we have money in our pockets. These are the people who have always been true to their own lights and have never lost their way. It’s not their fault that, for the time being at least, their party has.

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left