The new Conservative election poster shows a long and surprisingly well tarmacked road stretching into the distance into an economic forest of prosperity and renewed wealth. However picturesque this scene appears to be, portraying the Conservatives as a party driving our economy into sunlit uplands of a lower deficit, increased GDP, and falling unemployment, is this just a continuation of the party’s endless river of rhetoric while we travel on the road to nowhere?
At the next election the choice is clear. A weakened Liberal Democratic party and an empowered UKIP, although not powerful enough to take control of the Commons, leaves the battle for government between the Conservatives and Labour with many commentators predicting another hung parliament. The basic economic facts are this; since coming to office in 2010 the coalition has created 2 million apprenticeships, taken 3 million people out of income tax, cut taxes for 26 million people and seen unemployment fall from 2.47 million in May 2010 to 1.96 million in October 2014. Nevertheless, these appealing statistics are shadowing a growth in the gap between rich and poor, a ‘cost of living crisis’ as the Labour Party dubbed it and a very temperamental looking economy in terms of growth and industry growth. All of these statistics are covering a debt mountain of £1.4 trillion national debt that has essentially doubled from the £850 million five years ago.
To me this poster symbolises everything that is wrong with the Conservative approach to the economy. These statistics are great news for the country if we are growing the economy in a well-rounded sustainable way, that is encouraging a more stable and more developed economy than the one we found in 2010. However, the Conservatives election campaign and economic approach is shrouded in rhetoric, in empty worn-out phases that categorise so much of the government’s portrayal to the people of these policies. ‘Long term economic plan’, ‘a stronger economy’, ‘a journey’; all of these phrases are in the PM’s repertoire; nearly every question asked on the economy in PMQs by Conservative MPs features at least one of these. This focus on the economy is driven by the prominence of Lynton Crosby within the Prime Minister’s inner circle as Cameron’s campaign chief, who believes that the party must focus relentlessly on the economy as the Conservatives greatest strength with which to win the 2015 General Election.
Vague promises and a lack of a clear vision are not enough to satisfy the electorate in May 2015 and they are also not enough to govern a country with until the 2020 election if the Conservatives are elected. As a member of the Conservative Party, I am increasingly finding on campaign days and constituency surgeries that the Conservatives are viewed as not necessarily being out of touch with the wishes of the electorate but out of touch with how the electorate wishes to have the policies presented to them, the party of image method seems to be failing.
The rise of UKIP is to an extent proof of this; with UKIP’s rising popularity has come rising scandals and questions about UKIP’s candidates and social policies however UKIP articulate their views in a straight forward way which clearly gets to the point. Farage’s attacks on the ‘established political classes’ and the manner in which the Westminster Bubble relate to the public seem to be materialising in the minds of the electorate. All parties use this rhetoric and have these catchphrases, Ed Miliband had ‘Cost of Living crisis’, Nick Clegg has a ‘stronger economy in a fairer society’, Nigel Farage has the ‘political elite’ yet it seems that DC and the Conservatives are overloading on it and are starting to appear as untrustworthy and hollow.
How can we convince the voter to vote Conservative if all we can promise are empty policies with seemingly little explanations of how we can get there? This lack of vision and clarity suggests to me that we are going to have trouble making a really convincing claim to get people to vote in droves for these policies. How can we attempt to take voters from the left and the centre and say look vote Conservative but we haven’t really got a lot to show you why? It’s like trying to sell someone a new car without a brochure or a catalogue of all the options and surely this catalogue decides whether the car should be painted in Azure Blue or Hell Red?
The revival of the ‘Safety First’ message and a steady pair of hands is leading the Conservatives to fight this election on a fairly bleak message of focusing entirely on jobs, growth and unemployment, not public services, social problems and developing our country in every aspect of government intervention and government influence. There is no doubt in my mind that economically we cannot hand the keys back to the Labour Party who crashed the metaphorical car before the 2010 election but my party cannot go on electioneering in this way.
It’s going to be a tough election, one with less certainty of having a majority government, one where every vote counts and we must fight harder than ever to stop votes going to UKIP, the SNP and other growing parties so let’s get down into the nitty gritty work of really clearly outlining policies, relaying all the facts, relaying all the thoughts and predictions about the aims of these policies and not cowering behind professional PR and recycled rhetoric.
By Tom Chidwick