How can the Conservatives win the next election?
Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected by landslide as head of the Labour Party, he has managed to passively contribute to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, lose two elections and issue an awkward apology for Labour’s recent antisemitism scandal. Notwithstanding, he has managed to do the two things Theresa May must do if she wants to force another Tory election victory: gain the confidence of the youth, and make substantial increments in the polls in the last eighteen months. These may sound like two of the most repeated clichés in modern politics, but they are two very valid targets which must be met if the Conservatives do not wish to see Jeremy Corbyn enter No. 10.
There have been calls for prominent Conservative Party figures to take over from Theresa May, namely Jacob Rees Mogg and Ruth Davidson - two stronger, more enthusiastic figures and public speakers who would no doubt flourish as leaders of the Conservative Party in anything other than the current climate. It is simply not possible for the Tories, who have been plagued with a year of uncertainty and instability, to decide they still have no confidence in their own leader. It is not the Tories who must rebrand by reappointing a leader; it is Theresa May who must rebrand her own image – and it is completely possible. Here are the things that she, and the party, must do:
1. They must draw confidence from the public
Should the Labour Party triumph in the next election, many will look back on the Grenfell Tower fire as one of the key pull factors for a Conservative to Labour switch. Theresa May walked around the site of the incident with little visible remorse and little will to speak to survivors. This is not necessarily a political statement; it is not about ‘left vs right’ politics. A politician who can react to crises with poise and compassion is a desirable politician regardless of where they lie on the political spectrum. I refuse to believe that many of those who criticised the party’s response to the incident were blinded by party-political bias – they simply felt the damage from the lacklustre response to an avoidable disaster, and would have felt the same no matter the politician in question. In a tense international climate, and with ongoing European negotiations, the British public would consider these characteristics prerequisite for the next Prime Minister.
When the time for the next national major party debate comes, it must be she who initiates the terms of the debate. She must not reject it under the cover of an excuse, and she must know her manifesto inside out. She cannot criticise the Labour Party for appearing feeble and fragmented if she is not even willing to take part in a national debate. If she can marginally win an election following her infamous no-show, then participation in the next national debate – no matter how average the performance – would instil some measure of confidence in the public and help to cement her premiership for another 5 years.
2. They must form more access points for the youth
The completely overused cliché of appealing to this increasingly active demographic is slowly turning into an evident threat to the future of Conservative politics. Speaking generally, today’s youth finds no value in what the Conservative Party offers to 18-24-year-olds. Grassroots campaigning is extremely poor; the manifestos seldom explicitly outline how a particular policy may be of benefit to young people, and there is a lack of presence from young Tory politicians, be it in Westminster or in local politics.
The Conservative Party must set out with a strategy to counteract this, and it must work from the bottom up. Money must be pushed into grassroots campaigning to allow for a more visible presence in institutions within pro-Labour constituencies. Conservative politicians must be willing to accept and work on feedback from those within institutions such as universities and schools. This does not suggest they should rebrand as a left-leaning party, but the willingness to value, and pragmatically build upon, shifts in public opinion is exactly what an engaged public looks for. Social media has created a dramatic rise in the proportion of young people voting in elections, and it is the youth that seems today’s most politically-engaged demographic. Gaining a majority of youth support may be unrealistic, but any significant improvement should give the Tories far more momentum going into the next election.
3. They must shift public expenditure priority in order to reduce crime and revitalise the National Health Service
The Conservatives were elected in 2010 to carry out a programme of deficit reduction and prudent public expenditure, but many did not foresee the implications this would have on public services. The National Health Service has undergone a series of cuts which, in concept, were fine. Cuts to expenditure can streamline services and remove layers of red tape to make a more efficient service. However, the cuts that the Conservatives have made have failed to improve the NHS as an efficient service. Cuts to expenditure should have been directed away from front-line care to ensure the future of a productive, content workforce. At the same time members of parliament get their fourth pay rise in two years, it is imperative we treat the workers of our most important national institution the same way. The Conservatives have been on the right tracks as of late, offering NHS staff their first inflation-matched pay rise for eight years. Should this continue, they may garner a small increase in support from unionists.
Cuts to the police force meanwhile, particularly in London, have adversely affected front line policing rather than tackling problems with unnecessary expenditure and bureaucracy. This has run parallel to a dramatic rise in violent crime and moped-enabled crime, with the cuts often being cited as the root cause. It is also curiously ironic that the party which prides itself on being the party of law and order would leave a complete void for criminals to exploit in outer areas of cities. Much of rural Britain will vote Conservative in any case – it is the cities which will become the battlegrounds of the next election: London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Bristol; these must all see a reprioritisation of expenditure to shift focus towards front-line policing. Security from terrorism has declined in priority for much of the nation in the last six months, it is the rise of violent gang-related crime in major cities since the start of the year has been far more a pressing issue of security. Recent efforts in policing have struggled to cope with the surge in crime, particularly in the nation’s capital. If this year ends as it has started, we may see an extended Labour surge from those in vulnerable city outskirts.
Ultimately, the Conservatives may have changed their tune after the wake up call of the 2017 election. They have slowly tried to engage with the active youth and have started to inject more money into public services to counteract crime and issues with the NHS. As long as the Conservatives can keep this up, it will remain only down to Theresa May as a figure to convince the public that the Conservatives can be trusted in government for another term. If not, the nation will turn red.