We need a Conservative majority for two big reasons.
We need to be able to deliver the bold policies that the country needs, on competitiveness, borders control, law and order, welfare and the European Union.
We also need to show that we are a compassionate party by choice and not because of coalition. We need to show how we would use a majority to share prosperity and security to every corner of the United Kingdom.
Most Conservatives don’t need persuading that a majority Conservative government is preferable to continuing coalition. Some more liberal Tories and many floating voters aren’t so sure however. The liberal Tories worry about being held hostage by certain obsessive Tory backbenchers. Many floating voters believe that the Liberal Democrats are the reason why the Coalition government hasn’t privatised the NHS, has increased the basic pension, has increased some taxes on the wealthy and hasn’t more generally ordered a massacre of the first born. The strongest argument that Liberal Democrats will make at the next election will be that they will humanise and moderate the Conservatives in the event of another hung parliament while, alternatively, they would force Labour to take the deficit and civil liberties more seriously.
In arguing for a majority we need to address this danger. We need to avoid any suggestion that we are returning to a narrow range of obsessions. While large majorities of voters support stronger immigration controls, for example, and tough work requirements for benefit claimants and longer jail sentences for serious offenders, these are far from the only things that those majorities want. The average voter isn’t just interested in the few issues that UKIP, for example, obsess about. Most voters also want protection of what we might call Britain’s social contract. They believe in the NHS. They believe in a safety-net. They don’t want a sink-or-swim libertarian society. And most of all, of course, they want a government focused on the economy, particularly the cost of living and the creation of jobs.
Our best argument for a majority government may not just lie in our specific promises to fix the economy, rebalance our relationship with Europe or finish Michael Gove’s schools reform programme. They might also focus on the inherent weakness of coalition government at a time when the country needs far-reaching and bold reforms. The Liberal Democrats’ constant attacks on their Coalition partners have actually undermined their long-term goal of reducing the British public’s suspicion of indecisive election outcomes. The broken promises and squabbling that voters have witnessed since the formation of the Cameron-Clegg alliance mean that under a quarter of voters now see coalition government as their ideal model. Voters now see one party government as preferable because it’s easier to hold politicians accountable for their manifesto promises and there’s more clarity of mission.
If we are to develop the idea that we are a one nation party of prosperity and solidarity – we must take more pride in our party’s great traditions. Successful movements carefully develop iconographies. We must learn more about Conservative history and learn to tell the stories of that history. Margaret Thatcher was a great leader but Tories are too obsessed with her time in power. She was arguably modern conservatism’s greatest peacetime leader – rescuing Britain from economic and social decline – but conservative history did not begin in 1979.
Moreover there is often an inaccurate remembering of her time in office. She was more pragmatic and conservative than some of today’s more doctrinaire and libertarian disciples would like to admit. On both sides of the Atlantic Anglo-Saxon Conservatism is in danger of becoming distorted by this unbalanced and inaccurate focus on the Thatcher and Reagan legacies. Too much focus on economic liberalism is crowding out the other great conservative traditions. They were right for their time but they were neither the first or last words of conservative thinking.
By studying the richness of conservative history we become a broader party again.
Leading Conservatives in history who have achieved great things
William Wilberforce (1759–1833)
– the abolition of slavery
1st Duke of Wellington
(1769–1852) – victory at Waterloo and Catholic Emancipation
Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850)
– father of modern policing
7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801–85)
– social reformer
(1804–81) – bridged the gap between the ‘two nations’
3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1830–1903)
– Villa Toryism
(1858–1928) – founded the Women's Social and Political Union
(1869–1940) – welfare reform after the Great Depression
Winston Churchill (1874–1965)
– Second World War leader
R.A. Butler (1902–82)
– 1944 Education Act
(1894–1986) – built a property-owning democracy
(1925–) – where there was despair, brought hope
(1943–) – cut crime; boosted growth; created the National Lottery
This list of Tory heroes was compiled by Stephen Parkinson of the Conservative History Group