At 9pm last Thursday I was worried. Sat on my own in McDonald’s, having a calorie packed break between a day of canvassing and evening of analysing, I had my first opportunity to reflect on the campaign. I was certain that the Conservatives would end the night with a majority of over 60, but couldn’t shake off the feeling that our victory would be as shallow as it would be big. The reports I’d received from around the country – London excluded – at first appearance were good. Long-time Labour voters were telling our people that they would switch to the Conservatives, most often after dabbling with Ukip in 2015.
When you delved deeper the momentum was less impressive. To near unanimity the reasons these ex-Labour voters gave for breaking their life-long abstinence from voting blue was negativity towards the Labour leadership. None of them seemed to be positive about us. As I finished my chips I’d concluded that ex-Labour voters would only be lending the Conservative Party their votes, and we would have to work hard over the next five years to get them to happily vote for us. At 10pm, when the exit poll was announced, I realised that most of these people had decided to lend their vote to Corbyn.
It is not hard to understand why people who instinctively support Labour, in the end when their pen was hovering over the ballot paper, could not bring themselves to mark a cross next to the Conservative candidate. The Conservative General Election campaign was depressing. Our message was that the world is rubbish but please vote for us as we are best at making rubbish decisions. Those who work in the public sector or have not seen a pay-rise in many years were being asked to choose between a Government that would continue to mange the slow decline of their lifestyles or the chaotic unknown. After almost a decade of austerity the chaotic unknown seemed less of a threat than another decade of 1% pay-rises.
The Conservatives did not show their heart. We did not say why we wanted to govern and what we wanted to achieve for people. What is the point of having a strong and stable economy? What will the best Brexit mean for me? The Party missed a golden opportunity to tell those who would not normally ever give us a chance that we care about them. There are large swaths of the population who mistrust our motives and we did not offer them the opportunity to change their minds.
None of this should have been a surprise. Robert Halfon MP, in a speech at the end of March, warned us that “the Left have an incredible, powerful message, which is very simple when they knock on a door, which is that they want to help the underdog; that they are the party for the poor.”
On Thursday evening I thought I’d be writing a blog warning Conservatives not to get carried away with the size of our victory. Instead, let us not be too despondent at the result. Yes, the Party made big mistakes but we have the chance to make amends. The Party performed badly, rather than Conservatives being bad. Let’s wear our Conservative hearts on our sleeves. At every opportunity we get lets tell people why we are Conservatives – because we want the best for them and their families.