Mon, 15 July 2024

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How the Conservatives can win again


3 min read

The 2024 general election is bound to be a tough battle. The Conservatives will have been in office for 14 years. People will be voting who had just started in reception at school when David Cameron first entered No 10.

To have voted in an election won by Labour, you will need to be at least 37 years old. After 14 years of Conservative government, it would be astonishing if people were not pondering whether it’s time for a change.

But a tough battle is still winnable. Keir Starmer is no Jeremy Corbyn; he doesn’t scare people. But he doesn’t inspire them either; he’s no Tony Blair. 

After 14 years, attempts to blame Labour for what’s going wrong will invite a cynical snort from voters

For Rishi Sunak to match John Major’s achievement in 1992, three things need to go right.

First, the party must want to win – and act like it does. Grumpy MPs must stop whispering to journalists that “a few years in opposition will do us good”. People said that in 1997 but the loser doesn’t get to decide that opposition is just for a “few years”. If Labour win, they’ll be the ones making the political weather. It will be their ideas and policies that grab attention, and their rising stars whom the media will court. 

Second, ministers need to show relentlessly, week by week, that they are delivering honest, competent government and that their priorities match those of the electorate as a whole. After 14 years, attempts to blame Labour for what’s going wrong will invite a cynical snort from voters. 

That means doing everything in our power to bring down inflation and provide a stable economic environment to encourage businesses to invest in Britain and employ people here. It means a plan to equip the NHS and social care to cope with the pressures of an ageing population and high levels of long-term sickness. 

It also means dealing with those bits of the state that aren’t working well. A voter worried their local school or clinic might fall down, who wastes hours trying to get a GP appointment or a response from HMRC or the DVLA, expects whoever is in government to sort this out.
Third, we need to be able to offer people hope for the future and to explain to voters how we would use a further term in office. 

I hope the Prime Minister, in the days and weeks ahead, will spell out his vision for a country where opportunity, aspiration and enterprise are encouraged, a country seen in the world as an example to be followed.

To improve living standards and public services, we have to overcome Britain’s long-standing weaknesses in productivity and competitiveness and renew our transport, energy and data infrastructure. We need to foster excellence and adaptability in education and training, and offer young people hope to own a home of their own.

New technology offers huge opportunities to improve business performance, help solve the grave climate challenge we face, and make possible reforms to reduce backroom costs and improve the quality of public services. Already, digital communications and robotics make it possible for patients to be assessed and even treated by the top specialists in the country – or indeed the world – wherever they are located.

Voters are not starry-eyed about politicians or any political party. Promises of overnight success will, rightly, be dismissed with contempt. The public knows it takes time and difficult decisions to bring about serious change. What they expect is imagination and ambition for the future of our country, clarity of purpose, and honesty about the trade-offs and compromises involved in almost all big political decisions. The Conservatives need to bring the energy and competence to turn these promises into a reality. 

David Lidington, Former Conservative MP for Aylesbury

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