By Tom Bulpit
What is the single greatest electoral asset for the Tory Party? Ed Miliband MP.
And why is that a bad thing? Because had his brother David won the leadership we would be facing imminent defeat.
Ed Miliband has had a bad week. It has now become fashionable for the press to use freeze-frames to make him look ridiculous. He is a strong speaker and a sharp academic, but he has completely failed to build up his image. And now the opinion polls are murdering him for it.
But for all the schadenfreude we enjoy, this raises serious concerns for us Conservatives, especially libertarians. If we hold our seats in May 2015, it will be because in voter’s minds we were the best of a bad lot. Not because we were what they thought the country needed. Not unless we push hard now.
We do not have the momentum required for a landslide because we have not (yet) captivated the people’s imaginations. Our polished, HD-ready marketing from CCHQ bounces off the general public like it was made of Teflon. People don’t buy it. They see careerism and personal ambition, not the true-grit, mass-appeal policies that we rolled out under Maggie Thatcher. That’s the stuff people talk about and vote for. It’s the stuff Party activists like me want to see from our leadership.
That is why libertarians in the Conservative Party are of such critical importance to our country. We need to push for lower taxes, for less red tape, for that magical EU referendum we all want. Radical ideas for radical times. We have to present a solid wall to push our agenda, and we must always counter the vitriol from the left.
We cannot afford to isolate ourselves on the political fringe in an attempt to challenge Ukip. Our enemy is Salafist terrorism, not Islam. We should wage war on poverty, not poor people. We should address the issues of benefits culture and immigration sensibly, not try to divide (and lose) as we did with “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” in 2005. Only a positive, radical pitch will do.
We need to present a Conservative vision for Britain. That is how we win those 40/40 target seats, like Southampton Itchen where my friend Royston Smith is standing, and where people want solid solutions for local issues. Solutions like scrapping bureaucratic state social workers in favour of funds for local charities to provide children’s services by competitive tender – something I worked on two years ago and was a major reason for my joining the Conservatives. There is a way out of austerity, and that’s a fundamental reassessment of what government is for.
The United Kingdom is not yet out of crisis, despite the brilliant economic data. But we have cut the structural deficit substantially, cut taxes for the poorest and now have higher levels of inward investment than the rest of the EU combined. This is an impressive record, and we need to talk about it more. If this is presented well as we go into the general election we can win in our own right, because voters really believe that Conservatives deliver for Britain.
But the average voter still has tough questions for us. We need to defend welfare reform and justify raising VAT to 20%. When David Cameron goes into the TV debates he should look voters in the eye and answer them directly.
Ordinary people are prepared to vote Conservative, but only if we debate the issues openly and meet their concerns head-on. We need them to trust us to get the job done, and for that to happen Conservatives need to stop avoiding difficult questions and must steer clear of negative campaigning. Labour’s incompetence and vitriol should be recognised as self-destructive desperation and ignored as we present our positive case for Britain. We should pay no heed to Ukip – addressing voters’ concerns directly instead – and stop feeding the press by back-peddling and running scared.
Ed Miliband might be ridiculous, we can’t let that lead us into complacency. We could lose to his Labour Party, we could win just because we are slightly more credible or we could win because people put their faith in our Conservative vision for the country.
You have your part to play in this fight too. Every liberty-loving young person in the country should join the Conservative Party, and work for change within and without. Go to Party Conference, write great articles, build a relationship with the Party Old Guard, go for Council selection, and hammer every door and pound every pavement until election day.