The One Nation approach, opines Will Blair, will make the Tories the only party of British government
Standing on the steps of No10 Downing Street on that unforgettable morning of 8 May 2015, as the first Conservative Leader since John Major to win a majority at a General Election, David Cameron uttered words that made me more hopeful and excited for the future of my Party than I’ve ever felt in 15 years of membership:
“We will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom. That means ensuring this recovery reaches all parts of our country from north to south, from east to west. It means giving everyone in our country a chance so no matter where you are from you have the opportunity to make the most of your life. And of course it means bringing together the different nations of our United Kingdom.”
The PM’s words filled me with such optimism because I saw the potential we have, as a One Nation Conservative majority Government, to consign the Labour Party to the electoral oblivion of being a vocal, angry but fundamentally out-of-touch fringe pressure group, distrusted and unloved by middle Britain.
The election result yet again proved (if further evidence were needed) that the British electorate are a pragmatic, sensible bunch who eschews political dogma for practical and effective solutions to challenges facing community, society and country. The blatant statism and interventionism of Ed Miliband, and the mean-spirited and uncharitable nationalism of Nigel Farage simply jarred with the public’s view of our country and society, and they were rejected as a consequence on 7 May.
But it wasn’t merely that David Cameron and the Conservatives were picked as the least bad option. There was an affirmative choice by 11 and a half million voters to support a party that was delivering not only strong leadership to the country and effective, recovery-building stewardship of our economy, but a Party that genuinely put aspiration for all at the heart of its message and offer.
A Party that could be trusted on and cared equally about the things the public feel strongly about – the NHS, educational excellence, dignity and security in retirement. A Party that didn’t judge you by your sexuality, your religion, your ethnicity, your education or your family, but instead on what you could offer your family, your friends, your community and your country. A Party that takes action to ensure the poorest in society are supported and protected, and expects the most privileged to do the most and meet their obligations to the rest of society.
Call this approach what you like – ‘One Nationism’, ‘Blue Collar Conservatism’, ‘Progressive Conservatism’ – I just like ‘Conservatism’, as it’s an approach that’s been at the centre of our Party since its creation. It also has nothing to do with party factionalism – such as the antagonising labels of ‘wets’ and ‘dries’. Boris Johnson, whom some see as the putative new torchbearer of the Eurosceptic right, recently slammed ‘trickle-down’ economics, urging Tories to be ‘door bursters of society’, breaking down barriers to opportunity that the poorest in society struggle to overcome on their own.
It’s not only the right politics chiming with what the public want to see from their Government, it’s also smart politics.
With a Conservative Party that introduces a national living wage, champions equal marriage, increases investment in the NHS, honours our international and foreign policy commitments, takes the poorest out of tax altogether, and relentlessly promotes the ultimate British dream of home ownership, what’s the point of the Labour Party?
If they agree with all these measures, what would a Labour Government do better than this? Deliver them with more feeling, more bleeding-heart sincerity? Nonsense. They’d end up having to bin half the policies because they’d grossly overspent and mismanaged the first ones.
Now Jeremy Corbyn has become Leader of the Opposition, we know that the hard left is now back in business, and will be exerting a powerful influence over the Labour Party’s political direction for years to come. The zeal and passion for Corbyn’s brand of straight-talking Trotskyism exhibited by the many new Labour Party members or supporters, whilst remarkable, is also toxic for the Party’s electoral prospects. It’s this type of aggressive and angry dogma that, from both ends of the political spectrum, repels vast swathes of the electorate.
The challenge for us Conservatives is how we react to Corbynism. Some on the fringes of our Party might be emboldened to embrace the opportunity to militate strongly against Corbyn’s comrades, seeking to replay the black-and-white 1980s politics of hard-left-vs-radical-right. This would be a profound mistake, as an unapologetically aggressive right-wing approach will alienate just as many voters as Corbyn’s will.
We must robustly oppose this new militancy in Labour, but refuse to be budged from the One Nation centre ground in so doing. Rooting ourselves there will keep Labour boxed in on the unelectable left, as well as ensuring no green shoots of tentative Liberal Democrat recovery are allowed to break through.
In the foreword to the Party’s 1992 General Election manifesto, John Major rightly asserted that only the Conservatives can truly claim to be the party of opportunity; choice; ownership and responsibility. And he spoke of his vision for our country:
That, I believe, is the way we all want to live - a decent life in a civilised community. That is the way we can live: celebrating our achievements, not nurturing old grudges; enjoying our successes, not talking Britain down. We can be free of old prejudices and class bafflers. We can encourage diversity, not division; achievement, not antagonism. We can all make our own contribution to the success of the United Kingdom; and we must keep that kingdom united.
These words seem as true today as they were 23 years ago, and, just as in May 2015, in 1992 a One Nation Conservative Party came from behind to defy the expectations of the pundits and pollsters to win a clear mandate from the British people. Mr Major and the Conservatives received over 14 million votes – more votes secured by a Party Leader at a General Election in British history. I believe this was because of the progressive, pragmatic and patriotic that he and our Party put forward.
The Prime Minister has clearly proven himself the greatest Tory Leader since Mr Major. He has unequivocally re-established the Conservative Party as the true Party of Government. By collectively sticking to and delivering his One Nation programme, we can secure this winning legacy endures for generations to come, and guarantee a prosperous future for our Party and our country.
Will Blair was Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Holborn & St Pancras in the 2015 General Election.
This article was originally published in Crossbow, the Bow Group Magazine - Autumn 2015 on 11/11/2015. Published online 14/07/2016