Dr Andrew Lilico: Why we lost in 2001 and 2005
Dr Andrew Lilico, Managing Director of Europe Economics, asks you to consider the following three accounts of why we lost in 2001 and 2005 and what the implications are...
In 2001 and 2005 we were perceived by the public as far too right wing. People believed that we were overly ideological, wanting to privatize everything, and were obsessed with economic and financial issues - wanting to cut taxes and slash spending. This meant that our policies on issues like health and education and tax rendered us totally unelectable (i.e. it was certain important policies that made us "right wing") . Because the Party leadership understood that our policies on public services and the economy were impossible to sell, it rightly focused on more popular policy areas such as immigration and Europe. Unfortunately our strength in these areas was insufficient to overcome our basic weakness in public services and economy-related issues, and Labour was able to leverage off its lead in these issues to underpin its own authority and undermine our credibility.
Although, in principle, Labour might eventually make itself so unpopular that a "one more push" strategy could one day work, we cannot afford to rely on this happening soon, and so must address our weakness on these core questions. The way to do this is to adopt policies that the public can understand are close enough to Blair's to be credible, but then impose on those policies our own Conservative spin - so that we will carry Blair's agenda to a Conservative conclusion. With credibility on public services and economic issues, we can then take proper advantage of our lead on other issues - moving the debate onto new and radical ground such as the environment, on which Conservatives have something unique and interesting to say that the public has no heard before.
In 2001 and 2005 we were perceived by the public as far too right wing. This was manifest in our obsession with issues such as immigration and Europe that were of only transitory concern to mainstream voters (i.e. it was our choice of topics that made us "right-wing"). We seemed to have very little to say on the main issues of interest such as the economy or health and education - was this because we didn't care about public services, or was it that we secretly just wanted to privatize them so we wouldn't have to pay taxes to fund them any more? Our Party leadership, far too obsessed with survival issues, was ashamed to engage in proper debate with its adversaries on health and education reforms - instead, foolishly focusing on more popular policy areas such as immigration and Europe - with the consequence that our (rarely-mentioned and ill-understood) policies on health and education were, at best, half-baked. Because we were irrelevant on the key issues of the day, we were unelectable and Labour won by default.
Although in principle the Party might eventually stumble upon non-core issues that would animate the public sufficiently to build a winning coalition of interests (perhaps environmental issues?), surely the most straightforward policy would be to recognise our strategic error of the past ten years, and instead attempt to engage with the debate on the core issues - the economy, public services (and now, international affairs) - offering our distinctly Conservative approach to these matters and attempting to win the debate instead of giving it up to Labour by default.
In 2001 and 2005 our policies and our political positioning were essentially correct. Unfortunately we lacked the right personalities amongst our leaders to give proper voice to our Conservative point of view. Also, we perhaps sometimes lacked confidence and unity and we bore the legacy of our splits over Europe from the past and in general the fatigue of a long period in office. Also, because the economy was doing well, people just weren't ready to give up on the Labour Party yet. It's very difficult to get the government out when it isn't perceived as having screwed up on domestic affairs.
Now, with renewed and impressive leaders, not tainted by the errors of the past, if we hold our nerve and push truly Conservative policies - perhaps making them a little simpler, so that we talk about low taxes, the family, a strong nation and so on - then with Blair broken and gone the voters will now be ready to give us a try. We just need to make sure that we don't end up doing anything stupid to alienate our core supporters and force them to defect to UKIP or stay at home.
Now, although there are obviously all kinds of nuances and combinations of view that I am ignoring, I am interested in which of the three accounts above ConservativeHome supporters believe is closest to correct. For it seems to me that Cameron's team believes Account 1, and that they assume that their opponents must believe Account 3, but that Account 2 is closest to the truth. But what do other bloggers think...?