It is natural for people to look for silver linings when something bad has happened, but unless there is a proper assessment of what went wrong and why, this can look dangerously like being in denial.
And this week’s general election result is no different. Already I see MPs and Conservative activists talking about how the result is ‘more complex than you would first think’ because overall Conservative candidates got more votes than ever before, and the party achieved a greater national vote share than it has enjoyed in a long time.
But as the key defenders of the First Past The Post electoral system, Conservatives should know that the only result that really matters is how we did on seats. And Theresa May and the campaign management team lost on seats.
By focussing on the positives to come out of this we run the risk of not having the full post-mortem that is so sorely needed to make sure the Conservative Party doesn’t so spectacularly misjudge the national mood again. And this year, the discussion into what went wrong is especially necessary because there isn’t a ‘national picture’. There isn’t a single story of what happened in this election. For example:
- Where the Ukip vote collapsed, in some places it went wholly to the Labour Party, in others the Conservatives, and in many more split to varying degrees between the two.
- In some places the Lib Dem vote collapsed and went to different parties, whilst in others it increased – and in some seats it increased enough to win.
- In places the Labour vote went down, and in others the Conservative vote went down.
- In others, both the Labour and Conservative votes increased to different degrees.
- In Scotland, votes changed all over the place – in some seats SNP voters went to the Conservatives, Lib Dems and/or Labour; and in other places Lib Dem voters went to Labour and Conservatives; whilst elsewhere Labour votes went Conservative.
To understand how this happened – and how CCHQ totally missed it happening, despite some Conservative candidates saying they were worried about holding their seats (and who went on to lose) – will take a lot of work. In the coming days and weeks Conservatives for Liberty will be sharing our own assessment of what went wrong and why.
The key priority must be rebuilding trust with the electorate. Only 2.4% more people decided that the Conservatives were a better option than Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – with all that means. And of those people who voted Conservative this time, a large proportion – perhaps even a majority of them – voted Conservative only as the least-worst option.
That is the real danger the Conservative Party faces now; and if they do not act swiftly to assure their own voters and waverers who voted Labour this time that they have understood frustrations and anger at a campaign that took votes for granted and did little to present a positive vision of Conservative government, then those seats where Labour pushed Conservative MPs to slim majorities will be at risk. And let’s be clear: Conservatives should not now, nor ever, lower themselves to insulting the electorate and blaming voters for this result.
I believe that one of the important steps towards this trust building requires Theresa May to step down as Prime Minister. Given the difficulties of a hung parliament, this should not happen right now. But once the agreement with the DUP is settled, Brexit negotiations have opened, and a Queen’s Speech has passed Parliament, May needs to resign to allow a leadership election in the summer recess. Ideally, she would announce this intention within the next two weeks to allow the Conservative Party machinery to prepare for the transition.
Emily is the Chairman of Conservatives for Liberty. Follow her on Twitter: @ThinkEmily