The Conservatives are going through a tricky period. Midterm is playing havoc with the party’s reputation, the shine of coalition from 2010 has now worn off completely, UKIP are leading an attack and a split is occurring in the party about the stance of the party. They are going through an age of redefinition, an age which could cost them an outright majority in 2015. This age is something Labour experienced from 1979 to 1994 when their cause was lost and they just couldn’t get their message across. They welcomed in a new leader in 1994 who managed to change the way they were going and redefined Labour so they could have 13 years of power from 1997. The important thing here is: can the Conservatives do it before 2015?
Let’s firstly look at the Conservatives and their principles. They are the oldest party out of the main three. They were around when parties like the Liberals and the Whigs were, and even though the other two faded out, the Conservatives managed to readapt and redefine themselves to survive. There is an assumption that Conservatives are the wealth part of the country and reflect this is policy making. In the mid-20th Century, this image which they were so quick to abandon was supported with the old election films of Macmillan shooting grouse in tweed on some private-owned estate. In the 70’s and 80’s, they managed to redefine themselves to adapt to the changing world. In the late 60’s, Harold Wilson was finding it difficult to tackle the economy; many were seeing the pound in their pocket plummet in value. The Conservatives picked a leader from a middle class background, the son of a carpenter, to relate to the people and in 1970, they chose him. In 1975, Margaret Thatcher, daughter of a grocer, became leader. These were times of changing image in the party. John Major, again, was not an upper class leader, but a middle class one. When they lost power in 1997, they had 13 years to redefine themselves. This wasn’t helped by an Etonian leader by the name of David Cameron, but nevertheless they managed to create a dynamic and energic party which could relate to problems of a nation blighted by recession. In 2010, a confidence crisis swept the polls as people saw that an economic recovery was not going to be easy. The Conservatives got in but with help of the Lib Dems.
So through their history, they have done it. They have stopped, taken stock and transformed their image to relate. Grant Shapps, the party chairman, said that they need to re-connect with the people; knock on doors and talk to them about the real issues. The problem they have is of course, largely blamed on the mid-term blues. And this is a big factor, but they are also losing that vibrant edge they had in opposition, and they seem to have become complacent. With economic woes deepening, a budget expected to bring more bad news and the infamous ‘Bedroom Tax’ to be implemented in April; the Conservative side of the government is looking like to be favouring the rich over the poorer majority.
They need to redefine quickly. They need to offer strong thinking on issues like the economy and Europe. They need to define where they stand on the spectrum. They can’t beat parties like UKIP in places like Eastleigh if they decide to speak on issues as if they are UKIP; they need to define their separate stance. UKIP won’t go away as a threat. And as time ticks, many in Cameron’s party are calling for different changes- for a greater lurch to the right, or less of a lurch, and some are even defecting to UKIP.
They need to sort this out. If they are unlucky, they could be left with a relatively small number of MPs in 2015 (or sooner), with them losing a lot of marginals recently gained in 2010. Meanwhile, MPs they have at the moment are getting restless, they are in government but what they do is criticised and blocked by the Lib Dems and Labour. They need to blame someone. This could be their leader, their chairman, or the image they have. And they could redefine in a number ways – ditch the leader, ditch the senior team, or change policies to show a different side of thinking.
They need to take a different approach to upcoming election, because the May elections, the budget and the European elections next year will be indicators for the Conservatives that something is needed to redefine them. If they don’t, they could be left out in the cold like Labour was in the 80’s.
By Sam Kenward