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Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
Without a doubt, all of us feel disappointed, dismayed and let down by all the Downing Street parties that took place during the lockdowns. Whatever the Sue Gray inquiry says, nothing will change that.
But, to change a Government in the midst of a pandemic would be folly. The public would not respect us for this bloodletting. Especially as we are not yet over Covid. There is a cost of living crisis and Russia is on the verge of invading Ukraine.
I am not quite sure who the King Alfred the Great figure is that will step in to dramatically change our fortunes in the polls. Our problems are much deeper than just “partygate”.
But, what may make a difference is what the Government chooses to do next.
I call it the three rs: Response, Responsibility and Reset. How it responds to the anguish of the public, how it takes responsibility for what has gone on, but above all how it will reset to focus on the things that really matter to working people.
Instead of “operation red meat” there should be “operation cut the cost of living”, “operation affordable housing”, and “operation social justice”.
The last few months have sometimes seen the Conservatives acting in a Notting Hill sequel, with prioritisation focused on COP26, windmills and solar power rather than the issues affecting citizens much closer to home. It seems that on occasion the Government is more concerned with cycle lanes than looking after the white-van men and women who represent millions of small businesses and are the lifeblood of our local economies.
People across the country are worrying about feeding and clothing their families. We are seeing the price of petrol at an all-time high of £1.45 per litre, energy bills are rising by £200 per month and the cost of living has increased by 5.4 per cent. Is it any wonder the public are losing faith in us?
As a first step, the Chancellor should reduce or get rid of the green levies which amount to 25 per cent of our energy costs as well as get rid of VAT on fuel. As Fair Fuel UK has demanded, there should be a pump watch regulator to stop greedy oil companies ripping off motorists at the petrol pumps – by failing to reduce pump prices, even when the international oil price falls.
Next, Michael Gove should face down the selfish Nimbies and build, build, build. We need a housing revolution. Over a million people live in overcrowded accommodation and young people are paying sky-high rents and can’t afford to buy a home. The Conservative Party has always been at its best when it promotes affordable housing and homeownership.
On Operation Social Justice, for Nadhim Zahawi, the emphasis must be on education and skills.
Why is it that white working-class boys and girls on free school meals underperform at all stages of the education system, compared to almost every other ethnic group? Or that disadvantaged pupils are 18 months behind their better-off peers by the time they reach 16? Or even that families with children with special educational needs wade through a treacle of unkind bureaucracy to try and get the right support they need?
The Education Secretary should set out a long-term plan for education with a secure funding settlement. Moreover, why not transform our offering to young people, by offering an apprenticeship to every person who wants one, provided they have the right qualifications.
Rather than speaking for the Notting Hill intelligentsia, with some imagination and vision, the Government could get back on track with the people’s priorities – and stand up for workers up and down the country, beginning by dramatically cutting the cost of living.
Perhaps then we will feel less let down.
Last Saturday, loads of Harlow Conservative activists were busy delivering local election leaflets all around the constituency. Around the country many hardworking Conservative activists or volunteers would have been doing the same.
Yet in Westminster, we are letting all our members and volunteers down. Our first hurdle will be to ensure that we do not destroy the chances of these hard working councillors and activists in the May local elections. If we do badly – it will be all of us in Westminster and Whitehall that is to blame and no one else.
One thing is for sure, if we all continue to wash our dirty linen in public, and act out some kind of Balkanised civil war, the public will not look at Conservatives too kindly.
Many times in my columns for ConservativeHome, I have tried to warn Conservatives against complacency, given the – albeit slow – upward trajectory of the Labour Party.
This may sound strange, but I am glad we are getting a kicking in the opinion polls – even if it is predominantly caused by all the shenanigans at Number 10. I hope our current poll ratings put to rest once and for all, any idea the next election is in the bag and that it will be a walkover.
Conservatives have a mountain to climb to regain the trust of the people and weaken the inevitable opposition cry of “time for a change”.