We need a modern Conservative party
The Conservatives must urgently demonstrate that they are the party with the vision for addressing the daily challenges of ordinary people in modern Britain, says Johnny Mercer
I’m not great at writing articles like this anymore. “What would you like to see in the next Conservative Manifesto?”
Once upon a time I would have felt privileged to contribute to the discussion. I still have that fire that burned me into politics – a politics I grudgingly acknowledge is still a chasm away from what I would like it to be.
For someone who comes into politics to be part of something greater than oneself, who has always operated in teams that believe their strength is greater than the sum of their parts, I find myself increasingly at odds with what goes on.
Brexit dominates – who could have predicted that it wouldn’t. But it is the scale and depth of that domination, driving our political discourse in this country to a place I am content to say I am ashamed of, that I find hard to truly comprehend.
Discourse is rife: of course, it always was – but in a much more decent and respectful way. One cannot express ideas without being viewed through the prism of being a ‘remainer’ or a brexiteer’; a traitor or a fundamentalist.
And out there beyond this conference, beyond Westminster, is a country looking to be won over. Life for your average citizen of Plymouth, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow is currently bloody tough. Years of austerity have taken their toll. I have no doubt that this is not a left-wing country who are looking for someone like Jeremy Corbyn to become their Prime Minister. But if we Conservatives are as slow as we currently are in meeting the challenges of everyday life for millions of people up and down this country who go about their daily jobs without thinking about politics, we will usher that cataclysmic proposal in to being.
Brexit is an opportunity, and I’m not just talking about Europe. One only has to look properly, thoughtfully, at the reasons people voted to leave the EU, and they generally have nothing to do with Europe. Public services not working as they should; creaking railways and infrastructure; inability or unwillingness to tackle the housing crisis for young families like mine. Yes – of course there were some who voted because they didn’t like the idea of a federal Europe (who does?), there were underlying, far more significant reasons why people voted the way they did, and it is those a modern compassionate Conservative party must address at this Conference.
We can talk about individual policies like halting the ever-increasing tax-free allowance which will now start to benefit middle income workers more than the lowest paid and re-investing it into universal credit.
But what do I really want? A vision. Something I can go and sell in communities like Plymouth. I still believe – strongly – that we have the talent in the modern Conservative Party to meet the disparate and profound challenges of a modern Britain. Social care, the NHS, housing, the economy, productivity, this country’s relationship with her military – the list goes on. I believe that we can deliver a Brexit that the people in communities like mine voted overwhelmingly for, and we must: failure in that area will be almost terminal for my generation of Conservative MPs I fear. But then we must accelerate hard on those areas that people like me joined the Conservatives to address, that thousands of people in Cities like Plymouth voted for a Conservative MP for the first time to address.
We need a modern Conservative party, ruthlessly determined to close that gap between the elected elite and those who vote for them and pay their wages. The party that people instinctively know – call it values, call it an ethos, but they know are on their side. I hope that at this conference we can start heading in that direction.
Johnny Mercer is Conservative MP for Plymouth Moor View