2017 in Review: The Corbyn Climb and the May Minority

2017 was a year in which political scientists who have spent 20 years arguing that election campaigns don’t matter went “Eh?”. Theresa May called an election with a 20 point lead and ended up in a minority government, and there are lessons to be learnt from a fairly bruising year for the Conservatives.

Expectations matter: if you spend months telling people that a leader is going to be so catastrophically awful and incompetent, then that leader being even so-much as average is going to surprise voters and make them feel much more positively about them than they would have done otherwise.

More importantly, control of the narrative really matters. Part of the reason that Labour were able to do so unexpectedly well was that their dominance on social media enabled them to reach people in a way that we could not, and do so relatively unchallenged. A lesson from 2017 is the importance of social media and an activist base with varied demographics for reaching non-partisan and apathetic voters.

Even where the Conservatives controlled the narrative, it was a sub-optimal set of messaging. It was a campaign that was all slogan and no substance; all personality and no policy – and, worse, the slogan fell flat and the personality was scripted into non-existence. Both of these aspects have improved in the aftermath of June, but it remains important to offer voters something substantive sold in a way that makes them see the benefits of the policy. Substance without slogan leaves a policy open to spin by opposition parties (I’m looking at you, Dementia Tax), and policies are so easy to couch in an attractive way. “We’re going to enable people to protect an extra £77,000 of their money from social care costs and create a sustainable social care policy based on intergenerational equality and ensuring that future generations can enjoy the same benefits we do” would be easier to sell on the doorstep and less open to attack.

Furthermore, if you set an election up as being about the size of your majority, you inherently make it a two-party race. However bad people who vote Lib Dem, Green or UKIP might think Jeremy Corbyn is, if they are voting against the Conservatives, they’ll hold their breath and vote Labour. That’s ultimately where much of the Corbyn climb came from.

In minority government, Theresa May shouldn’t be afraid of being bold and pursuing radical policies that fit her agenda of intergenerational equality and looking after the Just-About-Managing, but she must remember that modern politics is as much about telling people why you do something as it is actually doing it. The Conservative Party needs a narrative, and needs as much a bottom-up as a top-down approach: while it is the party’s job to give activists some positive policies to promote; regaining the narrative also requires the instruments to get a decent activist base. If the Party doesn’t reconstitute the youth wing in 2018 and give further incentives to convert supporters into members, then it won’t have learnt the lessons that 2017 has provided.


Conservatives Should Be Natural Environmentalists

The Conservative Party’s decision to act to reduce the impact of things like plastic and diesel on our environment are some of the headline policies from a series of brilliant initiatives from Environment Secretary Michael Gove as he looks to safeguard our environment for future generations. While Gove and the Conservative Party have made progress on environmental issues, it remains the case in the UK and abroad that many conservatives are sceptical of initiatives to protect our environment – most notably US President Donald Trump. This is something worth looking at, because there seem to be a lot of logical reasons for conservatives to support environmentalist policies.

Firstly, we need to pre-emptively rebut something: the argument that we should leave environmentalism up to the market does not stand up to scrutiny. For literally hundreds of years government intervention has protected and promoted the fossil fuel industries and in some cases worked to put in excess harmful regulations to prevent the growth of the renewable energy sector. You cannot give one group of businesses such a massive head start and then expect the free market to correct a century’s worth of harmful intervention. That’s just not a plausible solution.

Likewise, governments of all colours have repeatedly held up the senile industries that many of the fossil fuels have been reduced to with excessive intervention. Imagine the good that could have been done to right past mistakes if that money and time had been spent improving renewable and clean technologies. There hasn’t been a free market in energy since the industrial revolution, and even if you took government out of energy entirely, calling it a free market would still be incredibly disingenuous.

Anyway, back to the main point. There are, broadly, two reasons why conservatives should ideologically favour environmentalist policies: 1) social contract theory, austerity, and pretty much all other conservative policies and theories are about leaving society to our children and grandchildren in at least as good a condition as we found it; and 2) one of the main integral parts of conservatism is the belief that societal change should be gradual.

So for 1), even if we put aside the potentially devastating consequences of climate change, climate sceptics must see that air pollution, water pollution, habitat loss, decreased biodiversity, etc., etc., etc. are all bad things that are happening right now. If we are to leave a planet for our children and grandchildren that is as good as the one we inherited, we need to take action, not only to prevent these things, but to alleviate some of the damage that has already been caused by decades of negligence. Yes, it may cause some short-term pain. There might be some adjustments needed. But it is the same principle as the austerity policy that we conservatives espouse: whatever negative outcomes (and there may be some) we get in the short run by acting now, they would be far worse if we have to take urgent action to correct environmental problems in 2050.

I’d like to think that 2 is fairly self-explanatory, but if not it does follow on nicely from what I’ve just been discussing. Whether the dramatic societal changes in the long run are caused by climactic shifts, behavioural changes to adapt to pollution or food-chain changes, or simply by being forced into drastic action to combat environmental problems, failing to deal with the environment now would likely force huge changes in how our societies operate in the long run. If there is one thing that should unite conservatives, it is a belief that dramatic changes should be avoided by
implementing less drastic ones now.

The biggest reason that conservatives should implement policies to protect our environment is of course the real danger posed by climate change to our planet, but if that argument doesn’t appeal to you, then if you’re truly a conservative you should consider the impact that environmental degradation will have on future generations and use whichever conservative principle takes your fancy to justify environmental protections. It’s a very unconservative thing to use market intervention to defend the unsustainable in place of a sustainable solution.

Why Conservative students should utilise social media platforms and publications like the Mallard

How people receive information has changed vastly over the last couple of decades. With a new generation of voters increasingly reliant on social media for news, views and campaigning, conservatives need to adapt quickly to stave off a demographic problem in our voter base. Labour’s 2017 General Election campaign successfully converted young people into voters and activists with a social media-heavy strategy, both in its official party organisation and through proxy groups like Momentum, the Canary etc..

Conservative students are well placed to take the fight back to Labour on social media. Knowing the sorts of angles that other people our age consider to be convincing, we are able to tailor snappy and viral posts on social media that provide a sensible, progressive set of reasons to vote for the Conservatives. Equally, we can see the things our friends are sharing from other political perspectives and so can be on the frontline of factchecking and providing alternative narratives, so as to prevent left-wing echo chambers building up on social media and misleading points going unchallenged.

That point about breaking down echo chambers on social media is vitally important. If the majority of young people who are politically vocal on social media are anti-Conservative then there is no counter-narrative for people who are less politically active to engage with. Positing viewpoints that these people may not have considered will get them thinking and might bring them around to a Conservative position. It is worth particularly considering that most young people tend to respond best to moderate, positive arguments, so framing points in a positive way is especially helpful to counter the hopeful narrative provided by Corbyn and Labour.

In essence, we need Conservative students to utilise social media platforms to make points and arguments that can reach our colleagues in a way that other forms of campaigning cannot. In 2017, we lost control of the narrative in its entirety on social media and that cost us because we didn’t provide anything to make young people think about.

Publications like The Mallard which allow young conservatives a platform to publish their opinions and present their reasoning for their political positions are also vitally important. Providing young people with a vast range of different reasons to support Conservative policies ensures that we can successfully target people across many political positions and could help to convince wavering voters to vote Conservative. Articles are also useful tools to back up short points with – one can make a brief argument on social media and then share a link to an article with a more in-depth explanation to emphasise their point and really make people think about the issue under discussion. Furthermore, a decent range of opinion pieces gives shy conservatives evidence that they are not alone in their beliefs, and will be accepted for them, which could help to drive up the number of young Conservative activists available to the party, and increase the conservative presence on social media.

Giving exposure to the writings of young conservatives also helps us refine our ideas and gives us food for thought on how we sell the things we believe in. Debate and looking at different nuanced positions are the best ways for people to develop and strengthen their policy prescriptions and ensure that they stand up to scrutiny. Even within conservative-dominated platforms there will be nuance and disagreement, and that is a positive that can help all conservatives reach better and more unassailable points.

Ultimately, even if the Conservative Party can improve its social media presence, it needs young people to take the fight to Labour on social media if it hopes to beat the Momentum machine next time around. Social media provides both an incredible challenge and an incredible opportunity: if conservatives fail to regain some portion of the narrative online, we risk losing control of it for a generation; if we can regain it and establish publications like The Mallard to provide pro-conservative narratives, then we could end up stronger than ever.

This article can be found in print form in the new 1828 Journal from the King’s College London Conservative Association, as of Wednesday the 15th November 2017.

If you challenge nothing, you challenge no one

One of the first things you learn in debating is that understanding the arguments in favour of your position is only half the battle when making a watertight case. A good debater should be able to understand in detail the arguments that their opponents might make, because in understanding those arguments you can find potential weaknesses in their positions, but more importantly, you can ensure that you know where the pitfalls of your arguments are and how to strengthen them against likely points.

Thinking about things from someone else’s perspective is a vital part of ensuring that our arguments are coherent and cohesive. It is also an important means of improving the policies that we are espousing. There is (within reason) no such thing as a wrong argument in politics, and every ideology isolates a different series of problems and solutions dependent on their worldview. With that in mind, putting yourself into the mindset of a political opponent ensures that you can tailor your arguments in such a way that they will appeal to people who might be less inclined to agree with your preferred policy prescription for the same reasons that you do.

Ideology really isn’t very black and white. Different ideologies can support the same policies for remarkably different reasons, and oftentimes non-political people who don’t subscribe to a particular ideology will have a distinct worldview that fits in nicely with ideological tropes, so knowing how others might be convinced to perceive your policy positively is important in political campaigning.

It helps that there are usually common patterns to what each ideology desires, but short of actually debating from the other perspective and thereby learning how to put yourself in that mindset, the best way to really shape good arguments is to follow a twofold system: talk to people of all political perspectives and try to avoid echo-chambering your social media to ensure that you come across a multitude of nuanced ways of looking at and thinking about issues; and constantly look critically at the things you believe in to try to refine your positions and ensure that they are built on as strong a foundation as possible.

This is all fairly obvious stuff, but it in an era of increasingly acrimonious debate and partisan politics it is important to say it. Partisanship can breed complacency in politics because it doesn’t encourage people to put policy under the microscope and because division makes it much more difficult to understand someone else’s perspective. If you judge people, or worse policies, by their party and not by their own attributes, then you close yourself off from a real opportunity to improve your personal convictions.

No one person can come up with perfect policy, but you can come up with solid, well thought through policy only by being open to challenging the fundamentals of your own worldview and tweaking things to add nuance when something seems weak. Debate and discussion with an intention to reach common ground and gain greater understanding of an issue is always important – even the nuance in reasoning between two people with a similar ideological perspective helps to make better policy.

In an era of increasingly divided politics, never has it been more important to take the time to talk to opponents and really consider why it is that we advocate the policies that we advocate. Ultimately in politics, if you challenge nothing that you believe, you’ll challenge no one.

It’s time to change the status quo of statehood

“National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. ‘Self-determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.” – Woodrow Wilson, 1918.

Forgive me for opening with a quote, but it is an important one. 100 years ago in February, the status quo that had governed ideas of statehood and self-determination began to change. In the last century, the principle that people whose states had been taken away from them by foreign powers should have the right to govern themselves once more was the prevailing belief. The United Nations, formed after World War II, was devoted to the idea that colonies should be decolonised and control returned to the people of those nations, and it still is devoted to that cause.

The problem with that is relatively simple: former colonies are not the only peoples who deserve self-determination, and their borders are not always the fairest. With regards the borders, this is largely a problem that colonial borders were drawn for convenience, not because they incorporated an historical entity. Take, for example, Iraqi Kurdistan, which last week voted overwhelmingly to begin the process of becoming a new state. Kurdistan was divided by foreign powers amongst various colonial mandates and neighbouring countries (modern day Syria, Iran, Turkey and Iraq) because that was what was geopolitically convenient at the time.

This isn’t just a problem in Kurdistan, areas like Barotseland in Zambia, and indeed in a plethora of other locations across Africa and the Middle East, were incorporated into other territories and have since been abandoned, as their parent state’s departure from colonial rule produced a big tick in the UN’s list of areas which had been decolonised and can now rely on the full backing of the UN to keep minorities without statehood. Likewise, a lot of conflicts in the post-Soviet nations comes back to Soviet policies of deportations to create governable blocks of land, irrespective of smaller regions’ cultural or national backgrounds. The fact that debates around such nations always boil down to matters of geopolitics is, frankly, insulting, given that geopolitics often robbed these nations of their right to self-determination in the first place.

Debating whether or not to support the existence of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan is simple: do you believe that people may be dominated and governed only by their own consent? If you do, then congratulations, you should support the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan and other states like it, and worry about the geopolitical implications as a secondary priority.

In fact, the United Nations itself has largely been useless in responding to the fact that circumstances have changed in the last twenty years. Newly independent countries won’t be easily distinguishable former colonies, but more complex and dynamic scenarios where groups within well-established countries with to secede and follow their own national destiny. The UN actually often causes more problems for potential states than it solves. That UN membership is seen as one of the clearest indications of state sovereignty means that the ability of other, large, powerful nations to veto membership is merely an extension of an imperialist attitude that, regardless of how legitimate your claim to statehood, you need the backing of all of the ‘big powers’ to become a fully-fledged member of the international community.

States like Kosovo, Palestine and Taiwan have long been recognised by a multitude of UN members, but have been persistently denied their place as a full member of the organisation because they either have spats with powerful nations (Taiwan), with their allies (Palestine), or simply because it would set a precedent (Kosovo).

The UN has principles for decolonisation that set out important provisions for self-determination. They argue that being unprepared politically or economically for independence should not inhibit a nation’s right to self-determination, yet they allow their most influential members to hide behind this as a pretence as to why certain regions should not have self-determination. They argue that armed action to prevent self-determination should cease and that states should allow dependent peoples to exercise their right to statehood, and yet routinely fail to exercise this when it is a region of the home nation, rather than a colony that demands secession. Most importantly, they echo Woodrow Wilson and argue that all peoples have the right to self-determination, yet do not act on this unless it is a case of decolonisation or the new state has the blessing of the nation from which it is seceding.

Around the world, prospective states are routinely trampled on by the nation from whom they wish to secede, yet the UN refuses to apply its principle of self-determination in these cases. Instead, they have chosen a list of 17 territories to focus on that it deems the last vestiges of colonisation – many of whom (Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, French Polynesia, etc.) have made it clear that they have no desire for statehood. Rather than focussing on areas which do not seek self-determination because of a commitment made when the areas occupied by dependent people were very different to the modern day, a body truly committed to global justice would focus on the multitude of areas that do.

Today the people of Catalonia will vote in a referendum that the Spanish government has repeatedly tried to prevent. If they vote for independence, and then make a unilateral declaration to that effect, it will create a difficult geopolitical situation in Western Europe. Usually big powers are able to ignore secessionist movements because they occur outside of the Western world, but with Catalonia it will be imperative for countries to take a side – and there are no prizes for guessing which side they will choose.

The thing is, the Catalan people have a right to self-determination. If they choose independence, then we have a moral duty to support their efforts to achieve it, and so does the United Nations. This could be a chance for the UN to show that it is still relevant, and can go beyond obvious examples of decolonisation to take a principled stand that says once more that upholding self-determination isn’t a choice, it is the duty of a free society.

But even in the unlikely event that the UN sides with Catalonia (provided they vote for independence, of course), there is still more to be done to transform it into an organisation fit for a changed world. The principles of the Montevideo convention should be what governs whether or not a nation is sovereign and entitled to attend the UN: a state is a state if it possesses (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

UN membership shouldn’t be an elite club which is designed to maintain the status quo, make it harder for secessionism and allow big nations to continue their imperial roles as the international community’s bouncers (“if you’re not an ally, you’re not getting in”). The people of Kurdistan have a right to self-determination, whether that is convenient or not, as do the people of Kosovo, Taiwan and all the other varied independence movements which meet the conditions of de facto statehood.

Nearly 100 years on from Woodrow Wilson delivering the words that reflected a change in the international order, it is time to go back to that doctrine that people may be dominated and governed only by their own consent.

If We Don’t Stand for Anything, We Might As Well Not Stand At All

After the surprise result of the 2017 General Election, a lot of Conservative activists have speculated as to how we might emulate the success of Jeremy Corbyn’s election machine, in such a way that shows that there are still lessons to be learnt from 2017. Those who have formed movements like ‘Moggmentum’ to coalesce around the traditionalist Jacob Rees-Mogg as a Tory Corbyn, or any of the ill-fated ‘Tory Momentum’ groups, which attempt to replicate the success of Momentum…somehow, have correctly identified some of the factors behind Corbyn’s rise, but have missed the most important ones.

Moggmentum, or indeed, any of the personality-driven campaigns which assert that the way to beat Corbyn is to replace Theresa May with someone more personable have successfully identified that one of Corbyn’s advantages is that people like him as a person. However, to attribute his relative success in the election solely to his being personable is to construct an imperfect picture of why people like Corbyn. People like him because he is seen as likeable, normal, in touch with the population, but even in an alternative reality where the Tories conduct the same campaign with a more Corbyn-esque leader, the result doesn’t change.

Likewise, while the ‘Tory Momentum’ groups have correctly identified that the structure of the Party and the sheer volume of Labour activists relative to our own significantly hindered our abilities in the election, the solution is not to form some Momentum replica. The arguments for structural reform of the party have been made time and again, and do not need to be covered here, and proper structural reform to maximise the incentives for people to join the party (a youth wing, better democratic structures, better campaigning etc.) will go some way towards improving our electoral performance. We both don’t need a Momentum replica – powerful autonomous allied organisations have the power to undermine the Party, as Momentum have done with things like Labour candidate selections; whereas most of the structural advantages of a Momentum style group could be gained through internal Party reforms – and wouldn’t be able to get a Tory Momentum, even if we tried to activate one.

The reason that Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum have been successful is that they stand for something. Since becoming Labour leader, Corbyn has had a very clear positive message and, like him or loathe him, people know exactly what he intends to do. Theresa May was very popular until the General Election campaign because she too had a positive message. Mayism was about improving things for the Just-About-Managing, increasing opportunity and making capitalism fairer.

Unfortunately, the election campaign brought a different message. The Conservatives emphasised that May was strong and stable without providing any sort of positive narrative as to why a Conservative government would be good for the country. Our manifesto focussed on issues of intergenerational equality and social justice, and yet we didn’t talk about that. The 2015 campaign saw similar policies backed by a positive message of socially and economically liberal governance.

By focussing alternately on how bad Corbyn would be and how strong and stable Theresa May is, we lost control of the narrative in its entirety. What we need in future is a positive narrative, emphasising our core principles. In 2017, we became so obsessed with Corbyn not winning that we made fatal electoral mistakes. Once the social care policy was in the manifesto we were always going to lose those voters who disagreed with it unless we could explain why it was necessary – if we could have tied it into a positive narrative around intergenerational equality we might have kept some of those who disagreed with the policy, and would decidedly have kept those who we lost by U-turning on it.

Mayism is inherently about intergenerational fairness and equality, and about expanding opportunity, and that should have been what the campaign focussed on. Cameronism emphasised liberal social policy and elements of intergenerational equality, and that was a far more potent campaign message that enabled us to seize control of at least our portion of the narrative. If May leads us into the next election, she will need a positive campaign message to win it. If we have to choose another leader, we should be looking for one with a positive vision for Britain that voters can get behind, not simply one who has mannerisms that are meme-able.

Corbyn did well because he stood for something, if we don’t stand for anything then we will lose the next election. Often it seems that we have become so obsessed with governing that we have forgotten to explain why it is good that we are in government. If we are to stay in government then we need a positive Conservative narrative, whatever angle it takes. Elections are more than slogans and smiles, they are about a vision for the country that the country can get behind – that is why Corbyn did well, that is why the Scottish Conservatives have done so well in recent years, it is also why populism has grown so much in the 21st Century.

We don’t need a Momentum, because without a positive narrative we won’t inspire the activists and the messages that allow Momentum to thrive. We don’t need a more personable leader, because we won’t be able to beat Corbyn without the narrative to compete with Corbynism. These things are all secondary priorities for the party: ultimately if we don’t stand for anything, we might as well not bother to stand at all.

Polarised Politics Makes Society Worse

People with different political views to your own merely have different perspectives on how to make society better, rather than whether to make society better. If you believe that their policy prescriptions do nothing to improve society, or even make it worse, then challenge them on the policies that they propose, not their moral character. If we insist on an antagonised and tribal political environment, then we will only make society inherently worse.

Last week, a 2017 intake MP said that she isn’t friends with people of the opposite political persuasion because she believed that they are ‘ambivalent to the suffering of [her] constituents’. I would posit an alternative hypothesis: she believes that her opponents are ambivalent to the suffering of ordinary people because she isn’t friends with any of them. Those who actively and avowedly avoid social relationships with people of opposite political positions tend to have a fairly two-dimensional understanding of what it means to hold that position.

They make assertions about things they think people in that group believe without any nuance, and largely without being close to the truth. Because they have never had a conversation with a friend who holds that position they have no understanding of why those people think as they do, and they take the easy route into assuming that it is out of self-interest or ignorance, rather than being part of a more complex and three-dimensional set of political prescriptions for how society should run.

The reason that such a lack of understanding makes society worse is simple: it is only through discourse with people who have a different worldview that you can get a fully rounded impression of all of the issues in society, and the ways in which you might solve them. If every party operates in a policy echo chamber then they will isolate half the problem and attempt to solve that, without ever being aware of alternative problems or potential pitfalls in their plans. Worse than not listening, if a legislator truly believes that their opponents do not care about improving people’s lives, then they will dismiss any criticism of their policies out-of-hand, and society will suffer from poorer policy.

The same arguments as to why a government with a small majority is better than one with an overwhelming majority apply to why people need to accept that politics is not good vs evil but rather a group of people who identify different societal problems attempting to improve things. Policy is better when it is calmly and rationally discussed by political opponents, because getting an understanding of how your opponents think enables you to come up with better, more nuanced and more well-rounded approaches to improving society.

Another massive problem of an antagonised political sphere is that genuinely believing that political opponents are ambivalent to societal problems acts as a justification to abuse of those candidates – it is irresponsible of someone in a position of influence to promote such a belief. Believing someone doesn’t care is a requisite for sending them abuse and threats, so a society in which that belief is actively propagated is one where abuse of opposing candidates will become more prevalent. We saw a sharp increase in abuse of candidates of all political persuasions in the 2017 General Election, and such an atmosphere has massive negative implications for policy-making.

Abuse of candidates becoming a part of the political scene will actively put off potential candidates and activists, and may encourage those who do choose to engage in politics to become more guarded. That will mean that it becomes more difficult to get legislators with a wide range of backgrounds and ideas to run for office, and it will weaken the quality of the pool of legislators for voters to choose from. A less diverse and weaker group of legislators again reduces the effectiveness of policy-making, especially when coupled with legislators fearing abuse being much less willing to criticise policies.

Activist suppression is another outcome of polarised politics, which inherently reduces the effectiveness of politics as an institution. There is an attitude in modern politics that being a member of and volunteering for a party means that you support every single thing that party has ever done, unless of course it is the party that the person making the accusation is a member of. Broad-church parties grew out of the knowledge that sometimes your party leadership (and by extension, policy) will reflect a different strand of ideology to your own within the organisation.

Discouraging opponents from joining political parties by implying that they have to support all existing policy to do so is an inherently bad idea. Not only does it mean that the party you disagree with will become more inflexible in its approach, adopting an increasingly narrow ideological band of policies, with fewer contributors to policy discourse blunting its effectiveness and thereby worsening the policies that a government led by that party would pursue, but it also severely weakens your opponents. A strong party needs strong opposing parties in order to remain strong – opposition and finding chinks in policy are a crucial part of policy-making; while electorally weak opponents encourage the party you support to become sloppy (as epitomised, if a case study were needed, by the 2017 Conservative General Election campaign). We need our opponents to be sufficiently well-funded to give the party we support the encouragement to be at its best, and we need them to have sufficient party members to have well-rounded policy discussions.

From an objective point of view, the other reason that we should be actively encouraging our political opponents to join parties links back nicely to the reason you should have friends with opposing beliefs. In an echo chamber, we fail to understand why our opponents act in the way that they do, and in our failure to understand we assume the worst of their intentions. One part of political activism is to go out and talk to people about why they should support a certain party and to provide them with that understanding of why a party thinks the way it does. Good understanding of your opponents is crucial to solid political debate, and a large number of activists spreading that understanding improves both policy-making and tolerance of opposing views.

It is very easy to assume the worst of your political opponents. It is very easy to shun them and construct two-dimensional pictures of their views which fit with our own worldview. Politics isn’t easy, it isn’t two-dimensional, and our own view of society is but one piece of a much bigger jigsaw. In this time of antagonism, if you genuinely believe that members of another party don’t care about improving society, I would suggest going and talking to some of them – you’ll probably find that they care just as much as you, they just have come to different answers to the big political questions.

The Answer to the Trump Right and the Corbyn Left

The Trump Right and the Corbyn Left are significantly different on paper, but both are symptoms of the same kind of political problems. Trump rails against free trade and immigration; Corbyn against big multinationals, foreign property investors, and the free movement of capital that enables tax evasion. Their target market is the kind of people that academic scholars call the ‘losers of globalisation’ – those who see the world changing around them but haven’t seen the advantages, those who have been told about the prosperity brought about by globalisation but haven’t gotten any better off, those who see an establishment talking about life getting better but feel like life has gotten worse.

The benefits of globalisation are well-documented, but too little has been done to spread the resultant prosperity. Prosperity has been centralised: the primary beneficiary in the UK has been London, with rural areas and our smaller towns and cities not feeling the benefits. The primary beneficiary of economic development in many cities has been the city centre, with those on the fringes largely ignored.

For conservatives to fight the rise of figures like Corbyn and Trump, we need to find ways to help those who have heard about the benefits of globalisation, but not seen them for themselves. Fortunately, we are best placed to provide long term, viable solutions to spread the benefits of a changing world to everyone in our society: Corbynism consists of dangerously short-termist policies – throwing unsustainable amounts of money at a broken system, at the expense of massive national debt which will force future generations to deal with worse problems with far less money to play with; Trumpism is largely empty rhetoric, designed more to win office than to solve anything; but Conservatism has the pragmatism and the ideological tools needed to help spread the benefits of globalisation – primarily through our commitment to the spread of opportunity for all.

When proposing any solution, it is important to remember our social contract with future generations not to impact their living standards at the expense of our own. While Corbynism is happy to spend tomorrow’s money today, leaving higher taxes, higher debt and increased austerity for future generations, we must ensure that we invest in sustainable, long-term projects.

A policy priority for spreading opportunity to all must be investing in our rural regions and regeneration of urban areas. Infrastructural investment in better roads, improving existing housing stock and building new houses, and investing in facilities for businesses will be an important long-term way to bring opportunity to everyone. We need to invest in job-creation by bringing businesses to areas with low levels of employment by building business parks on brownfield sites and encouraging long-term economic growth by providing long, cheap contracts for businesses to move into those areas and providing rates relief based on the number of employees a business takes on.

As well as bringing jobs to disadvantaged areas, we need to find ways to get people from those areas to jobs elsewhere. As well as investment in roads, an efficient and regular system of public transport is needed. That means regular buses in rural areas and an extension of existing bus routes in urban areas to make them accessible to everyone. Means-tested bus passes should also be considered, as a way to increase the accessibility of public transport.

To truly transform our society and bring opportunity for everyone, we also need to revolutionise our education system. The hysteresis in human capital from long term unemployment can leave people unable to find work. Implementing new free adult education programmes to enable people without work to gain new skills or trades that will make it easier for them to find work would help us to expand opportunity, and change the mindset that education is the exclusive preserve of young people. These adult education sessions should be held in areas with high unemployment, to ensure that they are accessible to those who would most benefit from them.

Reforms to other areas of education are important as well. Reducing the focus on grades and making it about learning will lessen the strains of our education system on mental health, and reducing the emphasis on exams would allow people to learn all the way through the year, rather than school being reduced to learning largely irrelevant facts for three quarters of a year and then spending a significant chunk of the year with a series of exercises that test recall ability more than actual knowledge. Children deserve choice too. An education system that allows them to choose between a focus on technical education, a focus on a more academic education, or a comprehensive focus on both is one where children can better reach their potential and will be less dissuaded from seeking knowledge. The current education system is a poor fit for many pupils, so giving them a chance to have a different style of education where they can learn about something they are interested in will enable more of our young people to fulfil their human potential.

While we’re on the subject of education, something needs to be done to continue to improve the accessibility of higher education for disadvantaged students. Maintenance grants should be reintroduced, so that the cost of higher education for these students is more in line with their counterparts, and the interest rate on our student loans should be held at inflation, to reduce the anxiety such a loan will cause. More work also needs to be done to reduce the myths that have been perpetuated around student loans. Students have become steadily more concerned about the impact that student debt will have on their lives – in part because of unhelpful scaremongering rhetoric from those who oppose tuition fees – when it is in reality no different to a means-tested tax with a 30-year period and an upper limit on how much it will cost you.

As Conservatives we are the party of home ownership, and so this is another area where we need to do more to help people. Encouraging the development of housing on brownfield sites and renovating and redeveloping run-down social housing would be an important long term investment in our country’s infrastructure. State-run housing is unfortunately incredibly inefficient and poorly maintained, and so we also need to come up with a way of balancing the need to house people with the knowledge that them owning the house will increase their standard of living and housing quality. Help to buy has already achieved a lot here, but another solution might be to simply hand over the home to its tenants (if they so desire) and then take payments towards it in the form of a means-tested tax. Those earning too little to pay the upkeep would receive housing benefit, while those who could afford it would pay towards the value of the house until they had contributed a certain amount. This would remove the up-front cost associated with getting onto the housing ladder and could be used to help both disadvantaged households and first-time buyers.

Finally, it is important that we consider how we can spread opportunity when taking advantage of Brexit. Being outside the European Union’s Customs Union means that we will have lots of opportunities to secure free trade deals and encourage foreign direct investment. This increased globalisation will benefit our country as a whole, but it is also important to ensure that it benefits rural areas and urban areas which have been left behind by globalisation thus far.

The Corbyn Left and the Trump Right are ultimately two symptoms of a wider societal problem that conservatives are well-placed to solve. In an increasingly globalised world, too many people have heard about the benefits of globalisation without feeling any of them. Populism, whether from the left or the right, has empty rhetoric and short termist solutions; conservatism has the unique combination of pragmatism and commitment to equality of opportunity that is needed to spread the benefits of globalisation to all. It is not that communities which have been left behind cannot catch up, it is simply that they haven’t been given the tools to respond to the rapid societal changes that have occurred. We need a radical commitment to expanding opportunity to improve our society.

Representation Over Representativeness: The Case for First-Past-the-Post

Aside from the arguments around its traditional place in our political structure, there are several arguments in favour of FPTP. Whilst the clamour for electoral reform has continued to grow, the case for it isn’t as black-and-white as it is being made to seem, and it is about time that those of us opposed to it make the case against it.

With Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour pursuing campaigns against high profile Tory MPs like Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd and Iain Duncan-Smith, Tory efforts to unseat Tim Farron, Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson, and various other MP-specific targets, it is clear that parties and voters enjoy the opportunity to target individuals with a record they dislike. Under PR systems it becomes much more difficult for individuals to be specifically targeted, as strong MPs will be placed high up the list or placed in seats where the number of members elected is sufficiently large that they would be safe without a massive landslide against them. If we believe that all MPs should be accountable to voters, whether they are the Prime Minister or a backbencher, then we need a system where all individuals are directly elected, essentially eliminating all but the more complex and unworkable of list-based systems.

Additionally, useful studies from AMS systems (where there are both list and constituency MPs) shows that constituency-based MPs are more likely to attempt to influence policy which benefits their constituents, whereas list-based MPs tend to attempt to influence policy which benefits their party’s chances of re-election. What we see from this is that FPTP systems tend to produce MPs who better represent and respond to the interests of the electorate; whereas the only way for list-based MPs to secure their positions and gain promotions is to back the party and the party-line. Therefore, constituents are more likely to be able to successfully lobby their MP in a constituency system, as MPs are more representative and accountable. FPTP provides the smallest constituency size of all possible constituency systems and therefore gives individual electors the most influence over their representatives.

FPTP is also the best system for localised campaign issues. With larger constituency sizes, it becomes more difficult for independents and single issue local campaigners to secure sufficient votes to take office and to be able to fundraise sufficiently to campaign across an entire electoral district. Even the most successful single-issue campaigners under FPTP can struggle to get upwards of 20,000 votes, which would massively limit their ability to get elected in larger constituencies. Likewise, local campaigns with the support of 1,000 or so voters are likely to be much more successful in influencing an MP with a smaller number of constituents than one with a larger number, enabling ordinary people to start campaigns and influence policy, rather than having to rely on more professionally organised campaigns.

Another benefit of FPTP is that it tends to produce strong and stable governments. Whilst this has not, admittedly, been the case in two of the last three elections, majoritarian systems like FPTP have a solid record of delivering majority governments. Why is that a good thing? Well, we’ve seen the popular outcry at the compromises required to make a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition and a Conservative/DUP confidence and supply deal work in 2010 and 2017 respectively. People don’t like compromise on manifesto commitments that they voted for in Britain. If we stick with FPTP then there will be fewer scenarios whereby a major party has to sacrifice key sections of its platform to form a government.

So why don’t people like First-Past-the-Post?

One of the most common arguments against FPTP is that it incentivises tactical voting by supporters of smaller parties and thereby unfairly disadvantages those groups. This is because FPTP generally creates constituencies where historically between one and three parties have had a shot at winning the seat. What it doesn’t take into account is a simple premise: if voters voted for the party they supported, rather than tactically, then a smaller party might become viable in a specific seat. As that is the case, it seems that major parties have done a fairly good job of campaigning for those votes, particularly given the fact that a number of smaller parties have won seats after sustained campaigning under FPTP. Furthermore, a quick glance at AMS elections finds that the number of votes gained by parties in the constituency and list ballots tend to not be particularly dissimilar, suggesting either that tactical voting isn’t a particularly significant problem in constituency seats, or that tactical voting is not dependent on the system being used.

Indeed, there also doesn’t seem to be a credible argument that tactical voting is specific to First-Past-the-Post at all. If the conditions are the same under an STV or AV system then it doesn’t seem any less likely that a voter would vote for the one of the major parties that it preferred. Ranked systems are easily manipulated by tactical voting, whereby voters give their least favoured majorn party candidate the lowest ranking and bump the most likely candidate they can support up the list so as to prevent their least favoured candidate from achieving office. Likewise, in a list system with a threshold there is still a similar incentive for voters to misrepresent their preferences in order to achieve the least-worst realistic outcome. If a voter typically votes for a party that falls below the threshold, there seems to be no reason for them not to cast their ballot instead for their favoured major party, in order to increase that party’s chances of winning more seats, as they would under FPTP.

Finally on tactical voting, it is worth considering systems like AMS where there are constituencies and then top-up lists. Constituency seats are obviously going to be subject to the same tactical voting pitfalls as FPTP, so the only plausible difference here could be in the list system. Lists are prone to tactical voting naturally, as mentioned above, but they have an additional problem under top-up seat systems, which is that larger parties generally do disproportionately badly from the top-up list than smaller parties. Therefore there is a huge incentive for voters to cast their ballots for small parties allied to their major party preference, in order to increase the number of seats gained by their favoured ideological grouping, but creating yet another distortion of preferences.

Representativeness is the other main argument against FPTP, that is to say that the number of seats allocated to parties tends to vary quite significantly from their proportion of the national vote. This is a fairly strong argument that is difficult to rebut. Often it results from local disparities and is therefore difficult to put right with regionalised list systems. The only viable solution for representativeness would be a national list system, but that would be incredibly problematic for individual legislative accountability and lobbying on local issues. If people would prefer poorer accountability and representation in favour of a feeling of Parliament being more representative, then there is a conversation to be had. But if people feel that representatives representing them is more important than them being representative of them, with the policy-making benefits that come with it, then FPTP is the only choice.

Other criticisms of FPTP include the fact that votes are wasted, which is again true to an extent, but this is true for nearly every electoral system. Under list systems there are thresholds, under ranked systems the second preferences of small party voters are considered but major party voters’ ranking preferences are wasted – this is more an issue with the fact that in a democracy someone has to lose an election than FPTP being a bad system. Another criticism is that it creates an effective elective dictatorship with large majority governments, but given the increased accountability every MP has to their constituents under FPTP, poor policies are unlikely to get through Parliament, regardless of the size of the majority.

So, what are the alternative systems?

There are closed and open list systems, both of which promote party loyalty amongst representatives over constituency representation, without solving the problems of tactical voting and wasted votes. There is AMS and other mixed-member proportionality systems, which have exactly the same problems as the list systems, but with extra confusion and more wasted votes, and the problems of collusion whereby major parties campaign for minor parties that they are allied with to mop up the maximum number of top-up seats and create a massive majority. Then there are the ranked voting systems like AV and STV, which give extra weight to the opinions of small party voters, who get eliminated first and encourage tactical voting to an even greater extent than FPTP (rankings mean that voters can place a greater distortion in their preferences to negatively impact their least favoured of the major parties). Ranked systems are also much more complicated than FPTP, which brings massive educational and infrastructural costs in implementation and management.

Overall, FPTP is a simple, effective, cheap system which leads to better local representation than any other. Electoral systems that enable good representation are far more important than ones that are solely about representativeness. We need a system that balances those two goals, but if we have good representation everyone gets represented, regardless of whether or not they voted for their MP.

There is No Moral High Ground

Politics has become incredibly adversarial. The abuse of people on all sides of the political spectrum is concerning and detrimental to constructive debate. If we are to have the mature discussions we need on the pressing issues of the day, then we need to clear up this misconception that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ side in politics.

Unfortunately, a lot of political debate has descended into dismissing the legitimacy of people’s perspectives because of the rosette that they wear. Nuance has been thrown aside in favour of black and white principles; pragmatism and consensus politics cast out in favour of virtue-signalling and grandstanding. Politics has generally become an unwelcoming environment.

Here’s the thing, you may think that politicians and activists in other parties propose policies that ruin people’s lives, that make them worse off, that make society a little bit worse, but that’s part of politics. Of course you don’t agree with the prescriptions of people from different ideological backgrounds, because everyone views society differently, everyone perceives there to be different problems that need addressing, and everyone comes up with a different solution to those problems.

Yes, you make think that the problems they identify are wrong, or the solutions they come up with are harmful, but they aren’t in it to be harmful. They are trying to make society a better place, they are trying to help people, and treating them like they are scum is unlikely to contribute much other than to hinder political discourse and to make them less willing to change their perspective.

By all means, debate policy with your opponents, but don’t descend into personal attacks because they have a different idea of what people need to improve their lives. Don’t cast doubt upon their desire to help people because of the rosette that they wear. There is no moral high ground in politics, there is no right answer in politics, there are only people doing their best to make people’s lives better, and you help absolutely no one by abusing and belittling them.

Politics is tough. People who are self-serving or who don’t want to help others are extremely unlikely to put themselves through it. If you are self-serving, then being in politics makes no sense, because you could earn far more and gain far more power in the corporate world than as a politician. If you don’t want to help others, then you are unlikely to dedicate the kind of time to politics that it requires to become an MP and even less likely to want to take on the 24/7 work of being one.

Ultimately abusing and dismissing people because of their politics makes society a much worse place. Abusing politicians and activists means that fewer people will try to engage in politics, and thus prevent a national conversation about anything. That will, in turn, lead to far more people who vote for parties other than your own staying quiet about their beliefs, making it much more difficult to convert them to your cause as you won’t know where they are coming from.

Furthermore, dismissing someone’s argument because of their party does nothing for policy-making. The best policies come from taking ideas from across the political spectrum and finding common ground. We all see ills in society and we all come up with solutions. If we work together to refine those solutions and identify those ills, we will make far greater improvements to people’s lives than if we yell past one-another.

Political disagreements tend to boil down to a few main differences: outcome vs opportunity, social liberalism vs social conservatism, socialism vs capitalism, etc. You don’t have the moral high ground if you are on one side of those differences. You don’t have some claim to being superior, or even correct, if you are on one side. There is no right and wrong in politics, there is only a collection of nuanced views on how to make the world a better place.

We need to stop trying to make politics into a question of who is helping people, and we need to go back to making it about how we help them.