A successful Conservative manifesto 2022 cannot be written by two people in a room
If the Conservative party fails to talk about how it is going to shake up our country then we are probably going to lose, warns Lee Rowley
By 2022, our party will have been in Government for over a decade; navigating an economic crisis, dealing with Brexit and steering our country through turbulent times. Whatever our achievements, 12 years is a long time to be in Government. Asking for seventeen is a tall order.
And yet, we must. The profound challenges we face, and the utter abomination of the opposition, means that 2022 will be the most important election of our lifetime. The idea we hand over the country to an ideologically dangerous Labour Party is unthinkable.
The seeds of that victory are sown now. Brexit may overshadow everything in politics, but it cannot overshadow our intellectual renewal. How will we raise living standards in the 2020s? How will we deal with rapid automation and artificial intelligence? How do we prepare our workforce for the jobs of the future? These issues may not burden our politics today, but they will transform our tomorrow.
So, by 2022, we are likely to face three core questions: how we deal with the desire for change after a decade in power, how we re-make our purpose and how we broaden our support.
Firstly, we must propose a vision beyond Brexit which boldly outlines where our country wants to be in 2030. To use that horrible phrase, we have to be the “change agents”; the ones with the vision and the willingness to take on vested interests. 2022 is a fantastic opportunity to reform our economy, unburden our taxpayers, take apart crony corporatism and smash monopolies. If the Conservative party fails to talk about how it is going to shake up our country, then we are probably going to lose.
Secondly, we must rediscover our purpose. Our party has always been most successful when we embrace, rather than obscure, the principles we believe in. We believe in free markets – not because they are perfect but because they deliver wealth, health and happiness. We believe in limited government – not because we don’t think the Government is unable to do some things well but because we recognise it often does too much badly. We believe in people standing on their own two feet – not because we want to walk by on the other side but because we believe in the beauty of human ingenuity and endeavour, supported by the right safety net. And, fundamentally, we believe in freedom; the freedom to be, to aspire, to live and to succeed. The time has come, as someone once said, to paint in bold colours, not pale pastels.
And finally, we need to broaden our support base in the country. Labour cleaned up with younger voters in 2017. Our principles are not winning over key parts of the electorate. Yet, counter-intuitively, younger voters are perhaps the most ambitious and aspirational generation ever – just the very people who should value the opportunity we have so proudly offered generations before. We have to connect our values with the freedom which younger people take for granted. We need to make the moral case for capitalism once again as the engine which creates the prosperity in we share in. We need to stop arguing from behind spreadsheets and start arguing from the heart. And, fundamentally, we need to stop focusing on how Labour will make everyone worse off and starting properly arguing why the Conservatives will make people better off.
So, our party has serious times ahead of it. A successful manifesto in 2022 cannot be written in a room by two people. It must be the product of years of hard work; re-discovering our principles, re-setting our arguments and becoming the disruptor of vested interests from business to academia, politics to education. Beyond Brexit, we have a real opportunity to change our country for the better. Let’s grab it joyfully. Then we have a real chance of taking the country with us.
Lee Rowley is Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire and co-chair of Freer