As published in The Telegraph;
“On the subsequent Sunday, the newspaper front pages were dominated by wild headlines about improbably populist policies such as withdrawing from the European Convention and cutting health care for immigrants.
They emanated from Conservative headquarters, probably from the same people who did so much damage a decade ago by wittering on about the “nasty party”.
These so-called “Right-wing” policies had very little chance of ever happening, and even less chance of working. Their authors had clearly not learnt the first lesson of politics: if you treat the public as fools they are very likely to return the favour.
All in all, it was a textbook example of how not to deal with an electoral reverse. Hysterical, slightly tremulous, thoroughly indecisive. And partly as a result the electorate smacked us again.
So how should we deal with Thursday’s reverse? Well we should neither underestimate it nor misunderstand it. Firstly, it matters.
So come the next Euro elections, when local organisation does not matter anything like so much, it is entirely possible that Ukip will top the poll. That would mean serious political momentum, more financial backers, more attention, more coverage, and the consequences for the Conservative Party in the subsequent general election would be dire.
That is the size of the problem. The nature of the problem has also changed over time. It used to be that the Tory fears about Ukip were unfounded, because the party’s vote was mixed Tory and Labour. Now it is about three Tories to one Labour.
Ukip has deliberately become more than a single-issue party. Since 2004 it has transformed itself into a Primary Colours Conservative Party.
Its policies on law and order, immigration, taxation, foreign affairs, and, of course, Europe mimic a simplified 1980s Tory manifesto.
So the electoral answers are Conservative ones, but the test of our response is less about how Right-wing we are than how relevant we are to ordinary people. So no matter how uncomfortable it makes our metropolitan elite, we have to deal properly with fears over immigration.
We have to do more to help conventional families through the hard times, including serious tax breaks for married couples. We should start cutting taxes to regenerate the economy, indeed we should have started years ago when it had more chance of working before the election.
And of course we should give the people a say over Europe, ideally before the Euro elections. Otherwise Nigel Farage will characterise those elections as “the referendum the Tories wouldn’t let you have”.
But most of all we have to start convincing the people that we care about the things that matter to them.
In that respect, people matter as much as policies.
In Westminster we get rather inured to the accusations of cliquishness and tend to shrug them off. So I got a bit of a shock in my constituency last week, when I came face-to-face with how much the public think we are in a different world to them.
My constituent was berating me that the government were all public school boys, then surprised me by saying: “It even shows in how you treat your own rebellious MPs.
“You have Nadine Dorries, a girl from a Merseyside council estate, who rebels and gets sacked, and you have Jesse Norman, an old Etonian, who rebels and gets promoted!”
I had no answer. The fact is that if we want to win the next election, we have to break this impression of being privileged and out of touch. The British public are neither snobs nor inverted snobs, but they do expect the Government to understand their problems and do something about it.
That means more straight talking and fewer focus groups: more conventional Tory policies, not because they are Tory, but because they work: less pandering to metropolitan interest groups: and please, please, no more Old Etonian advisers.”