The Conservatives have fulfilled their traditional role of clearing up the mess left by an outgoing left wing government, it’s left to us to make the tough decisions that Labour refused to make. They are the ones who threw the drunken party and we are the ones who have to clear up the broken glass and dishing out the headache tablets. It’s easy to be popular when you’ve spent years buying everyone gifts on a credit card, less so when you have to organise the whip-round to pay the massive credit card bill.
We will sort out the economic mess that we inherited but we shouldn’t expect much thanks for doing so.
Within months of leading the country to victory in the Second World War Winston Churchill and the Conservatives were heavily defeated in a general election. He was seen, probably fairly, as focused on winning the war rather than having a plan for the peace that would follow, Beveridge filled that policy gap with as long list of what the Government could spend money on once the cost of the war was removed and the “peace dividend” cashed in.
Churchill was also more focused on the external conflict with the Axis powers than maintaining internal party harmony. This meant that the Conservatives were not the relentless election winning machine of political lore and lacked a narrative that was distinctive and different from the coalition that governed during he war.
Fast forward to today, we see a coalition government making tough decisions in the national interest and a Labour Party that is already mentally measuring the curtains in Downing Street and planning how to spend the economic inheritance they expect to get from us, just like they did in 1997.
We, as a party, mustn’t fall into the trap that Churchill fell into. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be painted as one trick ponies, good for being tough and sorting out bust economies but good for little else.
How do we do this?
Ironically, as the economy improves we must talk about it less. There will be a huge desire to make our victory over economic difficulties the backbone of our re-election campaign, that would be a mistake. It would reinforce the incorrect notion that Conservatives are good with money but bad with people.
Labour won in 45 because people believed that hey had a plan for the future, we need to have an explicit and positive plan out to 2020 and beyond. Sorting out the economy is a necessary precondition to other more interesting, more exciting, dare I say more fun agenda for the future. We must have plans for good times ahead that are compelling enough to counter Labour’s pitch which will be to hose public money at each and all of life’s difficulties.