Robert Halfon is Chair of the Education Select Committee. He was the former Skills Minister and former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.
I’ve always felt that politics and football have a lot in common.
There is much shouting and screaming from both sides’ supporters but at the end of the match, the winner is the one who hits the back of the net the most, even if the winning goal is scored in the last twenty seconds.
At cup finals, the victorious team of course will parade the trophy around, but the losing team often will behave in a sportsmanlike manner – swapping shirts and handshakes with their opponents whilst collecting their medals, even if – understandably – they look quite glum.
Over the last six weeks, we’ve had the equivalent of an FA Cup Final as the Conservative leadership contest has unfolded. Now that cup final is over and there is a clear winner in the shape of Liz Truss. Whatever insults might have been made during the campaign, all of this must now fall by the wayside as the Party comes together.
In Monday’s acceptance speech, the Prime Minister talked about “delivery, delivery, delivery”. I welcome this, because the public want the Conservatives to deliver on the manifesto pledges.
However, there needs to be another three words for the Tory Party in the weeks ahead – “unity, unity, unity”. This is not unity for the sake of the party, but unity for the good of the country. If Conservatives continue to squabble and do not present a disciplined and united force to tackle the challenges ahead, the public will never forgive us.
Already in the polls, the Tories are slipping behind because millions of voters are dismayed at what has gone on over the past few months and, more significantly, are living in fear as to whether or not they will face destitution as energy bills continue to rise. They want to see the governing party as a responsible, serious and compassionate political force dealing with the problems the nation faces.
As I have argued in many ConHome articles over the past few years, even as far back as 2020, it was always going to be the case that Labour would one day start making their comeback and present a serious electoral threat.
Everything they have done over the past year has focussed on the cost of living and supporting workers – a far cry from the Corbynista policies of old like nationalising the internet. Slowly and surely, they are beating a path to electability once again.
It matters not that Sir Keir Starmer may be considered by some as dry or lacking inspiration. What matters are the policies they present to the British people. Whatever merits or demerits of their energy bill freeze policy, the polls show that this is a popular solution.
That is why I’m really looking forward to the multi-billion pound cost-of-living package to be unveiled by the new Prime Minister in the next day or so. If done right, this should present a really good opportunity to put us back on the path to recovery.
There is less than two years until the next general election, in which time we must get to grips with the economy, cut the cost of living, and to ensure our public services are working for the people. This is why the cost of living package to be announced over the next day or so is of such importance.
If we act as one, we’ve got a much better chance of winning back the trust of the public to deliver on their priorities. As we come together now to mark the new premiership of Truss, the simple question we should all be asking ourselves is whether we choose unity, or death.
With the challenges ahead, if Conservatives are to read one article in the next few months it should be a brilliant piece written by Matthew Goodwin.
He is someone who truly understands working-class voters like no other. I was pleased that he accepted a role as an Advisor to the Education Select Committee, (which I Chair), for our inquiry and subsequent report on the educational disadvantages faced by white working class boys and girls.
In his analytical piece, Goodwin talks about the falling trust of voters who support the Conservatives in 2019, and also of the kind of society they want to live in. He writes:
“…they want to rebuild a nation where government is willing to intervene to make a rigged system fairer, where net migration is reduced to around 100,000 a year as opposed to 300,000, where Britain’s leaders will take unprecedented action to defend Britain’s borders, where the deck genuinely tilts away from London and the southeast toward everywhere else, where government will prioritise the interests of the national community over the interests of big business and globalisation, where their leaders are unafraid to promote Britain’s distinctive identity, history, and culture, and influential institutions in the country – the media, civil service, universities, creative and cultural industries – are reformed to make room for a wider and more representative range of views and voices from the country.”
They want to see spending on the NHS (which they depend on) and to see action taken to cut the cost of living. They are not arguing for a small or a big government – but rather a good Government.
It is very encouraging that Goodwin has since been appointed as a member of the Social Mobility Commission headed by Katherine Birbalsingh, headmistress of the Michaela School. I hope that the new policymakers in Downing Street will read this article because it gives a fair reflection of the view of my constituents in Harlow, and no doubt millions more voters across the country.