The Tories need to learn from Ruth Davidson if they want to stay in power

The leader of the Scottish Conservative party has been able to win the Tories 13 seats north of the border

Benedict Spence
Sunday 11 June 2017 15:41
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Ruth Davidson saved the Conservative Party from electoral oblivion in Scotland
Ruth Davidson saved the Conservative Party from electoral oblivion in Scotland

Under normal circumstances, the sight of a sinking leadership fills ambitious Tories with hope; their moment to make a move for the top job. Not so this time. Most have been left reeling, as the realisation dawns on them that this may not just be a fatal blow to the Prime Minister, but to the party as well.

If the youth vote has finally arrived at a Westminster election, it’s bad news for the Conservatives: they are roundly unpopular among that section of the population.

Iain Martin, in The Times, wrote on 8 June that young people are drawn to Jeremy Corbyn because they don’t know any better. Young people don’t know or don’t care about Hamas, Ba’athism or the IRA. What matters to them is that they feel, justifiably, hard done by the economy.

Meanwhile, the idea that as they get older and more prosperous the demographic will make a natural shift towards the right doesn’t stand up. This generation is trapped by catastrophic debt that they will never escape. The majority will never own a house. The same trends just don’t apply.

To save the Conservative Party, the point needs to be made in this country that capitalism does work. Across the world, people are being lifted out of poverty at record rates, not by charity, and certainly not by socialism, but by the market. If the Tory Party is to survive, it needs to make the case for capitalism, and not just through rhetoric. It means doing the practical, like reducing taxes to help business and individuals prosper on their own. But it also means taking tough decisions, like admitting, counter-intuitively, that some things such as the railways naturally run as a monopoly and should not be privatised.

But that alone will not be enough: as well as making the moral and practical case for capitalism, the Tory Party needs to shed its amateur approach to electioneering and present a unified front on issues beyond the economy.

A manifesto devoid of significant figures was childish and treated the British people with contempt by believing that they and the press simply wouldn’t notice and would play ball. U-turning on key policies, no matter how unpopular, when the campaign was centred on stability, also wasn’t smart, nor was bringing up the fractious, and frankly irrelevant, issue of fox hunting. Unjust though that law may be, this was neither the time, nor the place, nor the will of most Conservative voters.

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In addition, though Labour is equally guilty of it, the mud-slinging hasn’t worked. The problem there, of course, is that as mentioned, many Labour voters don’t care about Corbyn’s failings, and moreover, believe that the Tories are the original ‘Nasty Party’. That label has been hard to shake; Labour has proven that if you shout insults loud enough and often enough, it influences opinion. The party needs to change this. To do so will require, as mentioned, a thorough appraisal of the benefits of Tory economic beliefs and a half-intelligent election strategy, but it will also require, at heart, a change of attitude in the party itself. The entitlement, the arrogance and the tepidness must be torn down and replaced with something genuine.

Ruth Davidson is the prime example to follow. Looking beyond her appeal as an individual candidate, the fact that she has been able to win the Tories 13 seats north of the border is proof that there is hope where the party was essentially buried. She has done it, importantly, by being genuine, and without the cardinal sin of drifting too far to the left in the vague hope it will win over the centre.

Unless her lead is followed, though, there is little hope that the Conservatives will stem the tide over the next few years as disaffected young voters turn from a stream into a deluge.

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