It has taken me this amount of time to come to terms with the fact that, 4 months ago, 40% of the British electorate chose to vote for a party led by a crypto-Marxist terrorist sympathiser, a man who winks at anti-Semitism in his own party and who has as his political hero one of the most cynical, treacherous old hypocrites who ever attained high office.
After the election it was easy to assume that this was a protest vote. A message being sent to a Prime Minister who had called an election that was not needed, having previously said that she would not do so. An opportunity for disappointed Remainers to re-run the referendum (despite Mr Corbyn being well-known as a Brexiteer, no matter what his people said). The polls suggested a Conservative landslide, so some voters decided to try to prevent that. Others stayed at home, thinking they didn’t need to bother to vote. All very easy and comforting assumptions to make.
But it is now clear that there was in fact a positive swell of support for Labour. If you are a voter under 50 (as I am -just) then you are far more likely to vote Labour than Conservative. Those born after 1975 will have no memory of life before Thatcher, no memory of how the country was the last time Corbyn’s policies were given a fair outing. Voters under 30 will have no real memory of the IRA atrocities. So simply calling Corbyn, McDonnell and Abbott IRA sympathisers won’t and didn’t work.
Thankfully the next election is nearly 5 years away. During that time the Conservative Party must address its lack of appeal to those presently under 50. The last election proved that they will go out and vote if they are given a reason to, so the old assumptions about younger voters will no longer hold. We cannot simply look after the interests of the retired. And it’s no good just saying that Corbyn’s policies won’t work. Action is required. We have 4 years to show, not tell, that Conservative policies can work for the under 50s.
We need to answer the aspirations of younger people. We must a find a way to make home ownership affordable once again to those in their twenties and early thirties. That is going to mean, first and foremost, a massive house building project with the focus firmly on starter homes. This is particularly needed in London and the south-east where house prices have far exceeded the levels at which anyone without help from the Bank of Mum and Dad or a City salary can hope to get a foot on the ladder. It is going to mean being realistic, locally, about where we can build. It means higher density in our towns.
We have far too many private monopolies. They are as bad as state monopolies. They are run solely in the interests of the providers, just as state monopolies were run solely in the interests of unionised labour. In both cases the customer loses. If you don’t like the service provided or you think you are being over-charged you have nowhere to go. If I want to go to London and don’t fancy driving I am stuck with South-West Trains (sorry, South-West Railway). My water comes from one private organisation. I can change gas and electricity supplier, but there are few to choose from and their price structures are remarkably similar. And the national gas and electrical network is a monopoly. The energy and water companies should be broken up, not nationalised. New suppliers should be permitted to lay new pipelines. As with football clubs, there should be a maximum percentage of the water or energy market that can be held within the same ownership. We should push ahead with a high-speed trans-Pennine rail link before building HS2.
It also means that the Cameron modernisation project must continue. I have a huge amount of time for Jacob Rees-Mogg, a thoroughly principled and honest politician who is much the same today as he was at Oxford 25 years ago. I admire the strength of his religious faith and the clarity with which he expresses his views. However, Jacob’s preferred way of living his life does not reflect the way in which the majority of Britons wish to live, and, like it or not, the public prefers to have a Prime Minister who seems to be in sympathy with their aims and aspirations. David Cameron did this extremely well, despite coming from a similar background to JR-M.
We do not need a change of leader, despite the best efforts of the Press to whip up signs of discord in the parliamentary party and to portray any speech by a potential successor as a bid for the leadership. Theresa May has a mandate to negotiate Brexit. No other politician can claim that. She should be supported in this hugely difficult task, and the party must use the remainder of its energies in demonstrating that it has the interests of younger voters front and centre of its programme for the current Parliament.