As 2018 kicks off we enter the time of year where we all start thinking about how we can improve ourselves. Whilst a number of our political leaders could do with cutting back on the booze and losing a few pounds, their positions of power mean that their resolutions should be a little bit more grandiose than yours or mine. As such we’ve thrown together some new year’s resolutions that our political elite should look at. In our first piece, we look at how the Conservative government can improve its standing by focusing on policy & communications.
What do the Tories need to do to turn things around?
1) Build out an actual agenda.
Since Theresa May called a general election and managed to lose the conservative majority in parliament the Government has been directionless. Brexit has been the main focus of activity on both sides of the house, but there’s been little of anything else happening. This is to be expected, as the loss of the Tory majority means that their policy agenda has been rejected and attempts to bring it in any way whilst relying on DUP support would cause the rebels on the Tory benches (Dominic Grieve, Nicky Morgan, Heidi Allen etc) to kick off and act against the Government. As such the Government has little room for error when it comes to courting votes, and it has sensibly decided to play a cautious game and limit opportunities for the Government to be defeated.
Politically, this makes sense, but the lack of a Government agenda means that the various challenges facing Britain (Housing, Low Productivity, a struggling NHS) are not seeing any meaningful solutions put forward. Whilst Senior Tories like Jeremy Hunt & Sajid Javid are making positive noises, the solutions being offered are limited, and will serve only to delay problems rather than actually solve the underlying problems.
The new year presents an opportunity for the Government to build out an agenda that can take meaningful steps to solve the challenges that face Britain, but it requires the Government to take decisive actions. Rumours abound that Theresa May is going to create a new department as part of an effort to re-launch her premiership. If this is accurate, and she does create a department to focus on housing and infrastructure, she will be taking the first necessary step to getting her government back on track.
The department itself though is only half the battle. It will need to turn out meaningful, effective and popular policies that will resonate with the electorate and undermine some of Labour’s attacks. This will require investment and an awful lot of it. Based on what was released with the Industrial strategy in November we’ve seen very little sign that the Government is actually prepared to take the necessary radical steps when presented with the opportunity to do so. As such it’s possible that this new department will be created, a young up and coming MP will be promoted and then not do very much. The Government needs to avoid this trap if it wants to turn around their fortunes.
2) Work with the opposition on a select few areas.
There are a number of areas where the Government could make a strong play of working with Labour, and potentially undo some of the toxicity they managed to pick up during the campaign. Take the viral, and misleading story, that Tory MP’s had voted to say that Animals weren’t sentient. It was bullshit, but it spread quickly. The combination of May wanting to bring back fox hunting, binning a pledge to ban the ivory trade and the vote on “ animal sentience” have led to a situation where the Tories and the Governments are viewed as not caring about small fluffy animals, and if there’s one thing that Britain hates, it’s people who don’t like animals.
The Government is aware of this, and have enacted some policies which are aimed at rectifying this damage to their reputation, and the beauty is that basically every opposition MP is going to support the policy. If the Government can identify similar issues, and work with opposition MP’s they can have some legislative wins which will be popular and provide them some political cover. The image of Theresa May holding a press conference with Jess Phillips, both of them talking about reforms to the systems of support for victims of domestic abuse would be both effective governance and effective politics as it would look to resolve a problem and provide political cover for the Government as they enacted policies that were popular.
3) Stop making everything about Brexit
In line with the above, the Government needs to stop turning their talking points into a Brexit-fest. On the day the Government announced the crack down on puppy farms, they also confirmed that we’d be getting blue passports. The Controversial issue (passports) led the news, whilst the story they’d have wanted people to hear about was buried. Now I’m not saying the Government shouldn’t be doing stuff like making our passports blue (I personally think it’s dumb, but there’s a large section of society who vote Tory who do care about it), but they need to be smarter about it.
Rather than leading with a minister announcing that the passports would be changing, they could have just released a PR piece with a mock-up about what the passport will look like and then let the right-wing media do the rest. The Express, the Mail and the Sun will all run with the story and give it high levels of prominence. It would reach the eyes of the people it mattered to and would have had less of a chance to be seen by everyone else. There still would probably have been kickback, but a simple PR piece that says, we are going through the normal Passport creation procedures, here’s a list of the new security features, and by the way, they’re going to be blue, would have been a sufficient nod and wink to Brexiteers without taking attention away from what they need to be talking about to ensure they start to de-toxify the brand.
Throughout the next few months we’ll be using these resolutions as a benchmark of the Governments performance. My current bet is that we aren’t going to see much improvement on any of the areas above, but time will tell, and we’ll be here ready to evaluate the Governments performance.