East meets Westminster: Tory MP calls for “fundamental change” - and tax cuts
- Credit: PA
THE news just gets worse for the Conservatives, writes Richard Porritt.
Eastleigh was always going to be tough to win.
But to come behind UKIP – after many believed the Tories had turned a corner on their battle with the Euro-sceptic party after calling an EU referendum – was a disaster.
Even while the polls were being counted knives were being sharpened.
In darkened, smokey, Westminster rooms backbenchers with coups on their minds were already chatting about how they could wrestle the party away from this metro-centric, liberal leader and give it back the chutzpah it so revelled in during the Thatcher years.
“Shift right,” they cried in unison across the Sunday papers. “The people want a true Conservative party like the ones of old.”
What complete rubbish. If the electorate wanted a firmly right- wing party David Cameron would never have shifted his party so far left you can almost hear the opening bars of The Red Flag as the backbenchers take their seats at the 1922 Committee just to get (almost) elected.
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All knee-jerk reactions will do is prove to the public the party is panicking and that it has run out of ideas. Old-school Tories fail to believe that a huge swathe of the nation – people they need to vote for them – still do not like Margaret Thatcher. Time has not dimmed the dislike for the Iron Lady in many areas, including ones that are currently blue. So going back to the “glory days” will only prompt further failures at the ballot box.
So what to do? Mr Cameron headed north to deliver what may well end up being remembered as a key speech – which ever way it goes.
He will hope his words steadied jangling Tory nerves a week on from Eastleigh. But his message was the same on the economy. But even one of the Government’s most outspoken critics believes pressing the panic button would not solve anything.
In fact Clacton MP Douglas Carswell has even more radical ideas than giving poor old Mr Cameron and his battered Chancellor George Osborne the boot. He does want to snatch their power away though – and hand it to anyone who is faintly interested.
He told East meets Westminster: “For four weeks before people voted in Eastleigh they were bombarded with the likes of me coming along and saying ‘vote Tory’.
“But that is no good. What we need is good, strong local constituency parties. The party has become Westminster-based.
“If this party is to survive and move forward it needs to be a mass-member organisation and in the days of the internet that has never been easier.
“It should be free for people to become a supporter of the Tories. They should be able to go online and register with just a postcode, name and email address. And for that they should be allowed to vote in primaries and help shape who stands as an MP.
“Then for just a few pounds people should be able to become online members – for this they can have a say in actual party policy. If this approach was taken people would rush to be involved.”
Mr Carswell makes a good point. Membership of political parties has plummeted over recent decades and any party who can politicise any element of society will surely grab votes.
And he is right that Mr Cameron is not the problem – the party is. The PM consistently polls well with the public – he is the only Tory weapon Labour truly fears.
It is the party that now needs to catch up with its leader.
Mr Carswell added: “The Conservative party is currently a bit like HMV – People still buy music just not in the way HMV sell it. And people still want politics – just not in the way we sell our policies.
“Eastleigh is a wake up call. Back in 1992 when we last won a majority in a general election we won Eastleigh by 18,000 votes. And now we are finishing third. And the worrying thing is that people say things like ‘we were never going to win’. But we could have.”
And he believes a lot now balances on Mr Osborne’s shoulders: “The Budget is key. It has become vital now. There needs to be a change of approach – although I would call it Plan A plus rather than Plan B.
“The Government has not done enough – George Osborne has relied on easy credit and low interest rates so far but now we have to change direction.
“Every policy decision must take in to consideration that young couple, with two kids, struggling to make ends meet in Clacton or anywhere across East Anglia. And that means George Osborne must cut taxes.
“Cutting taxes is the way forward for two reasons – it will make people feel richer as they have total control over more of their money and therefore it will boost the economy because they will spend. Instead of letting MPs decided where a family’s money is spent let us give the family the choice of where to spend it.”
The more sensible heads in the party echo Mr Carswell’s tax-cut rhetoric. And Mr Osborne must surely be on the brink of listening now. Are we close to Plan B?