The Conservative challenge

There is much media discussion as to what the Prime Minister needs to do to restore the fortunes of the Conservative Party.  Various strategies are being proferred: take a more robust line on this or that policy, move the party in this or that direction.   What much of the discussion misses is the fundamental reason why the Conservative Party was the party of government for most of the 20th Century – and why it ceased to be so at the end of the century.

The Conservative Party was successful because it was able to convey that it was a competent party of government, primarily in handling the finances of the nation.  That sense of competence was reinforced by unity, leadership and a sense of public service.  The perception of competence in handling the public finances was lost in 1992 following Black Wednesday.  Party support in the polls collapsed.   There were also party splits (not least over European integration), divisions over the party leadership, and public service appeared to be replaced by self interest.   The splits over issues such as Europe reinforced the Government’s unpopularity but they were not the cause of it.  

At the end of the day, Bill Clinton got it right: ‘It’s the economy, stupid’.  Focusing on other issues does not get to the heart of it.  The Government has to demonstrate that it is competent in handling the affairs of the nation, especially the economy.   In that respect, it has the advantage denied it when the electors put it into Opposition – it is still in Government and has time to act.  But there needs to be a very clear understanding as to the essentials of the problem.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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8 Responses to The Conservative challenge

  1. Stephen MacLean says:

    Your conclusion arrives at the crux at the issue – ‘there needs to be a very clear understanding as to the essentials of the problem’ — and the evidence is great that this understanding eludes the Conservative leadership.

  2. D F Rostron says:

    If I remember a quote from David Cameron correctly, he said he “wished to return to the values of Margaret Thatcher”, now it depends which side of the Thatcher divide you stand as to your reaction to this comment. This will not endear the Consevative Party to the victims of the Thatcher period.

    Perhaps if David Cameron added a ‘working class floating voter’ to his advisory team he could present an image that was more in touch with the realities of daily life at the lower income end of the economy.

  3. ladytizzy says:

    Voters know the economy is not in a good place and that there is no miracle cure for the UK, whoever in charge.

    Flicking through some of the so-called libertarian blogs, the message is ‘Vote for anyone, so long as they are not Labour, Tory, or LibDems’. The problem is that none of them are natural Labour or LibDem voters but they are disaffected Tories. There is a mass who want to roll back the years, pre-Health & Safety, pre-smoking ban, pre-wind turbines, and Mr Cameron doesn’t represent them – but nor do the others.

  4. Croft says:

    “The splits over issues such as Europe reinforced the Government’s unpopularity but they were not the cause of it.”

    Not sure that holds together. THE ERM debacle wouldn’t have happened if the leadership had not been so divorced from the majority of the party who opposed EU integration. The ERM join was a consequence of the split and the loss of fiscal confidence a consequence of the ERM.

  5. Neil M says:

    “Its the economy, stupid.”
    It is but the post Thatcher era saw quite a rapid increase in the pace of economic globalisation and one result is that there is increasingly less that our national government feels it can actually control. It plays this up when seeking to avoid blame for the downturn and concentrates on positioning itself to claim the credit for the eventual upturn when it comes. Hence its pre-occupation with perception.
    Perhaps Macmillan saw it coming – its “events, dear boy, events.”

  6. Mrs Wheldale England says:

    I just don’t believe any political party when they say they are going to improve our economic situation not because I believe they are dishonest but because I don’t believe they can. Our economy is so deeply entwined with the economies of the wider world that all our Government can do is try to tinker and manipulate things in our favour.

    • maudie33 says:

      That is King’s new clothes speak.

      Why did ‘they’ allow this to happen in the first place, you may ask? When ‘they’ decided we were to be part of the ‘New World Order’ where did they see their role in all this power for the taking? Did they really believe the Capitalist giants of the great corporations, et al, were going to give them solace? I don’t think so.

      So, the answer is, they have got what they deserve…..Time for an entirely different approach, a new think, one that the ‘voters’ of this country can back in unity.

      But, don’t hold your breath.

  7. maudie33 says:

    Which brings me back to the detritus surrounding the Health Bill.

    Whilst Earl Howe is mouth wateringly attractive, especially in blue, he is also a slippery customer on the issue of secrecy.

    Secrecy is set up to hide what government knows the public won’t swallow. And why is he backing that kind of duplicity? His answer to that question is seriously flawed thinking.

    Freedom of information is in the interests of us all, in order that government cannot deceive us on matters of importance and the not so important. He should be on the side of openess and transparency, as Baroness Murphy always insisted, he is a man for all seasons.

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