A clear vision is essential for restoring voter confidence
The Conservatives are in the opinion poll doldrums. Despite its completely lacklustre leadership and almost total lack of policy, Labour finds itself with a commanding lead. While this is neither unprecedented nor a guarantee of victory in an election still potentially a year away, the Conservative Party cannot simply hope that things will magically turn around. Competence, hard work and attention to detail, the hallmarks of Rishi Sunak, will not be enough to enthuse Conservative voters who have no love for any of the alternatives but may decide to stay at home. "We are delivering" is a great slogan for Ocado but unlikely to excite sceptical or bored voters.
The Party needs to create a compelling narrative. Politics is best told in stories, creating a consistent picture that voters can easily understand. It requires us not simply to set out policies, but the ideas and philosophy behind them. In other words, we need to have more ‘why’ in our politics to augment the necessary ‘what’. If ‘what’ is our intellectual contract with voters, it is the ‘why’ that provides the emotional buy-in.
Conservatives are not just another brand in political marketing but come with an inherent set of values and a sense of tradition and identity for our country. When we set out our beliefs, millions of people across Britain recognise that they share our approach, making us electorally stronger. Part of our current problem is that because we don’t talk about our beliefs and values, too many voters don’t realise that they are natural Conservatives.
For example, when we talk about getting people back to work, we have a tendency to talk about it in stark economic terms rather than human terms.
No one should ever be better off not working than working. If the only value that anyone knows they have is what the state gives them to do nothing, how can they know what they might be to themselves, their families, and their communities? Rewarding work is not simply an economic but a moral crusade, encouraging dignity and pride as well as self-reliance. When we express it in this way, millions of people realise that what we believe is also what they believe.
Likewise, when we talk about core Conservative values such as the need for personal responsibility, it can come across as coldly abstract. Personal responsibility is the key to a stable and free society. The bigger the state, the smaller the citizen. In a free society, people should be willing to shoulder their own personal responsibilities, profit from their own efforts, and be accountable for their own actions.
The state should limit itself to what only the state can do and not interfere in areas where individuals, communities and other institutions could operate effectively and efficiently. Allowing individuals to abdicate their personal responsibility onto the state weakens, not strengthens, society. We have a duty to help those who cannot help themselves, but we do not have a duty to help those who will not help themselves, who have the ability and talents, but choose not to do so.
It would be hard to find many people who didn’t share this view, especially when we point out that smaller government also means lower taxes and keeping more of the money they earn.
We need to talk about the need for strong and supported families and the desire of the radical left to see the destruction of traditional family models. We need to tackle issues of identity in simple and non-ideological ways. Diversity in society is enriching and a key component of freedom. However, if we only celebrate our diversity and not our commonality, then we will not end up with diversity, but fragmentation and ghettoisation. In a healthy society, different is good but separate is dangerous, threatening social cohesion and tolerance.
When we describe our pride in, and defence of the Union, our belief that security is the first duty of government and our unwavering commitment to the safety of our country, the connection increases. When we repeat that there is no such thing as government money, only taxpayers’ money, and that borrowing is just tax deferred to the next generation, we strike a chord with countless voters.
Of course, we also need to shout more about our achievements. Since the pandemic, the British economy has grown faster than France or Germany. Despite all the prophets of doom, the data shows that Britain’s trade was not harmed by Brexit but continues to flourish with new trade agreements opening up new opportunities. In 2022, more houses were built in Britain than in every year but one of the last Labour government. And we must remind voters that every Labour government has left office with higher unemployment than it started with.
But to get their attention, the electorate need to know who we are and what we stand for. The “v-thing”, the vision in politics is not an abstract distraction. It is the story that voters need to hear.