Who 'owns' the results?

Following the Local Elections, where should the party go next?


Some 18 months ago Will Tanner, at the time Director of think tank Onward and now Deputy Chief of Staff at Number 10, posted a tweet on the collapse of the Truss government saying to those who has supported the Truss campaign (and the ideas of a lower tax burden and a robust pro-growth agenda that underlay it), “You broke it. You own it.”

It is with this in mind that I note efforts following the, frankly, awful local election results to pivot blame away from the personnel and ideas currently leading the Party and instead pin it elsewhere. Some are still trying to blame the short-lived Truss administration (the party has shed around 7 points in the past twelve months, all well after Sunak entering No.10), others on ‘the Right’ (the right of the party is probably at its institutionally weakest since 2015) or even claiming that the ‘projected national vote share’ (PNVS) shows that the Conservative position is much stronger than some give credit for (one struggles to think of any occasion where this PNVS has borne any passing resemblance to the actual polls or next General Election results).

The simple fact of the matter is this: we had a pretty disastrous set of local elections. London saw our mayoral candidate hammered, despite ULEZ and worryingly high levels of crime, and the loss of two GLA constituencies. Other mayoral elections, with the exception of Ben Houchen who survived a 20% fall in his vote, were a washout. We lost almost 50% of our councillors up for election (twice as many as we gained in 2021), and fell to third place in councillors elected behind the Liberal Democrats. And these results reflect the view that the British voting public (or, at least, the comparatively few who bothered to show up) has towards the policy direction that we are currently heading in.

For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a coded (or otherwise) call for the replacement of the Prime Minister. Wherever you think he sits on the party’s ideological spectrum (and I was impressed with his willingness to stand up to ever-higher spending as Chancellor under Johnson, and found much of his policy prescription during the 2022 Leadership election to be fairly pro-market, if uninspired), he is the only person who can lead us into the next general election. The British public are already frustrated with our party for our constant internal ructions, and another round of navel gazing will only upset them more. And, frankly, the identity of the leader will make little difference. Even if the most robustly conservative member of the Parliamentary Party were to become leader, it would not change the ideological make up of other MPs – there is no buy in from enough of our party (at least inside Westminster) for the sorts of robust Conservative policies needed to put bright blue water between us and Labour. Instead we must spend the next six months showing we can still, after 14 years, provide sensible government in the national interest.

We also need robust Conservative policies to be offered in the next manifesto. We need to offer leaving the ECHR (or otherwise disapplying it to allow our domestic migration policy to operate as voters expect). In a world where the cost of living crisis is more important than ‘climate emergencies’ in the minds of voters, we should be abandoning our headlong rush towards ‘Net Zero’ and a return to a democratically accountable and sensible environmental policy that balances energy security and abundance with efforts to reduce pollution. In a country where the dark shadow on anti-Semitism has migrated from Corbyn’s Labour to universities, we need to push back against the lazy assumptions of wokery. And we need to return democratic accountability to the big policy issues of the day.

Because it is now clear that the ideas the party is offering is not what voters want. Poll after poll puts the Conservative Party well behind Labour, and with Reform (in some polls at least) nipping worryingly close on our heels for second place. It is not difficult to see why. In too many areas of policy the government is offering milquetoast Labour Party policy. If we seek to appeal to voters who want more spending and and care nothing for the tax burden falling, Labour will always outbid us. If we offer policies that appeal to those who want to focus on delivering Net Zero at the expense of economic growth, Labour will get there faster. If we focus on adding more regulations on things like the number of women who sit on company boards, or how football clubs are operated, or whether an adult can buy tobacco, we will always be outflanked by Labour. The idea that ‘prudence’ just means Labour-lite is being tested to destruction. After more than 18 months (more than ten times longer than Truss led the country), the purveyors of these ideas  have clearly broken it. Now they have to own it.