Saturday, 10 June 2017

Reflections of a tired campaign volunteer

The Conservatives lost our majority during the 2017 General Election and below I will outline why I think that was. I was not central to the 2017 General Election campaign. I do not market my views as those of an ‘insider.’ If someone more deeply involved in the decision making described me as a peripheral part-timer I would not disagree. However, having volunteered on both the 2015 and 2017 Conservative General Election campaigns, I believe that I have seen enough to make the observations I have.

The 2017 Conservative General Election campaign was not built on a well seeded narrative. The work for the 2015 General Election campaign began years before voting took place. I was an employee of the Conservative Research Department (CRD) in 2013, the point at which Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor assumed control of our 2015 campaign. On the first day Lynton and Tex sat down with CRD they explained precisely what we were trying to achieve and why: what strengths of ours we were trying to maximise and what weaknesses of Labour’s we were going to play on. From that point on our focus on those things was relentless. We spent two years hammering home the message of our long term economic plan to secure Britain’s future. The media hated it, the British people however understood it. When the 2015 General Election arrived there was a narrative we had developed, which meant the framing for it was the economy. Any other issues, regardless of how popular (and some of Miliband’s policies in isolation were very, very popular), took a back seat. Why? Because voters had been conditioned to think about the economy when they went to the ballot box. So the election came down to ‘who do you trust on the economy?’ That was where the negative work we had done on Ed Miliband’s credibility paid off. It did not matter what Labour were promising, they were not as trusted as we were to deliver. In the context of the narrative we had created, our strengths counted more than theirs. Their weaknesses were magnified and ours minimised. By contrast, the very nature of snap election makes it hard to seed a narrative. Rather than two years, the campaign had two weeks before Parliament was dissolved to try to get the British people to see the election through the prism we wanted: Brexit. That meant the campaign was vulnerable to being blown of course unless any noises off were minimised.

Questions about our 2017 General Election manifesto changed the battlefield for us, as a consequence of not having had the time to frame the contest. As a result of our narrative not being well-seeded our strengths on Brexit could not be maximised. Generally speaking, people vote based upon what they feel is most likely to guarantee a secure and more prosperous future for them and their families. Due to the lack of time we had, we struggled to make the emotional connection between Brexit and these issues. There was a desire to show how a good Brexit would support the good jobs, strong public services and other things of importance to the electorate. However, when the 2017 General Election manifesto was published it contained new policies that prompted questions. In strategic terms, to a large extent, the intellectual merits of these policies was irrelevant. Their import was that they diverted the conversation from where we wanted and needed it to be, given the little time we had to drive home our narrative. In 2015, even with two years of preparation, the General Election manifesto we produced was relatively light on any new policy. Anything new had to be immediately understandable to voters. Anything that might cause confusion and take the narrative away from where we wanted it was minimised. This time around that does not appear to have happened. All polls noted a drop off in our support at the time the manifesto was published (and the differences between the polls more or less just reflect their turnout assumptions). Confusion led to uncertainty, which opened up a new conversation where Brexit was simply less relevant. People began judging their economic security around social care and how they would fund their children’s lunches. Arguably, from that point, it was not possible to recover our position. My youth and inexperience may betray me but I have never seen a party lose a narrative during a campaign and subsequently regain it.

People may dispute this analysis and point to other things I have omitted to discuss. My sense is that everything else falls within the context of the items outlined above. Lack of time to develop a narrative, then failing to minimise the risk of being dragged away from our narrative, led to our disappointing result.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The end of the world

Many commentators have greeted the election of Donald Trump as US President as the end of the world. To some extent they are correct, although not in the way they think. I believe Trump’s election is evidence that the post Cold War world order is collapsing. Western political parties must accept and respond to this. Failure to do so could result in them being confined to the past, rather than having a hand in shaping the future.

Politicians in the West must acknowledge the factors that led to Trump’s rise. Donald Trump characterised his campaign as ‘Brexit plus, plus, plus’[1] and he was right to do so. I appreciate why some commentators deny common factors. Without dispassionate analysis the wrong conclusions will be reached though.

Since the end of the Cold War, the West has tried to integrate Russia, China and others into the international order. It was assumed that through commerce a new world order could be created: economic interconnectivity would show the wisdom of the Western way, and opening up in the former Communist world would happen over time. Trade became freer, the world became more connected. There is little sign of property owning democracy developing in Moscow and Beijing however. Rather than creating Western democracies, capitalism has given authoritarian regimes the tools required to sustain themselves post-Cold War. That has also had an impact on the West, which provided those tools.

It is undeniable that many Westerners, not only in Britain and America, feel the globalised system no longer works for them. As our barriers came down, lower labour costs in other places saw the off shoring of jobs. As our barriers came down, mass migration led to rapid cultural change. I am a free marketer by instinct, yet to argue for abstract principles in the face of what’s happening is impractical. A shift has happened in Western society. People have decided that cheap goods from elsewhere are not worth the non-monetary cost here. Pretending otherwise would be burying our heads in the sand.

The system has got to change or it will be torn down. Increasingly Western societies are demanding the governments they fund put them first, and forget about the global system. When Donald Trump talked about bringing back jobs it spoke to peoples’ concerns.[2] When the Brexit campaigners talked about how they could save steel plants, but for EU market rules, it spoke to peoples’ concerns.[3] People appear tired of hearing that obligations to people elsewhere mean things have to change at home. Nowhere is this starker than in the debate about migration. It is no surprise that the chant ‘build the wall’ became a slogan of Trump supporters. [4] It has also been long established that a majority of the British public think migration is too high, and that they want no additional refugees to be admitted to Britain.[5] Western citizens don’t care why people are coming, they don’t want them to.

The emerging picture is of publics that think charity begins at home, and that governments need to look after the interests of the taxpayers that fund them before looking abroad. It seems inevitable that this pressure will roll back the tide of globalisation. Should today’s politicians prove unwilling to be proactive about doing so, Western electorates will find outsiders, like Trump, who will. The French establishment may discover that in 2017.

[1] Donald Trump, Birmingham Mail, 7 November 2016, link
[2] Donald Trump, Politico, 28 June 2016, link
[3] Breitbart, 31 March 2016, link
[4] Daily Mail, 6 September 2016, link
[5] YouGov, 18 November 2015, link

Monday, 26 October 2015

We need to talk about tax credits

Today the House of Lords’ will debate the Government’s reforms to tax credits, and there is a chance the Lords’ will try to block these. Not only would that be wrong constitutionally, it would also be wrong in principle. Tax credits need reforming. Changes need to be made so that hardworking people can have confidence that every penny of their pay cheque is theirs.

The tax credit system is broken. I first became aware of tax credits as a child watching my Mum, a single parent, fret over an overpayment letter from the tax man. A lot has been written about how government’s changes to tax credits could affect people. Very little has been written about how doing nothing could affect them though. Anyone who has had the experience of being told they got too much tax credits last year, and so they need to pay money back, knows tax credits are not perfect. Nobody on tax credits can ever be completely confident that their pay cheque is accurate. There is always the chance that money you have been given, money you might already have spent, will be demanded back from you.

My experiences have made me believe that instead of taxing people, and giving them a little of their money back as tax credits, the best thing to do would be to tax less in the first place. This would free the British people of a system so open to the possibility of error. Your pay would be your pay, and there would be no more letters through the door saying your tax credits were miscalculated. People could feel secure about what they actually had to spend, and budget secure that no money would be later clawed back from them.

This forms part of the Government’s long-term economic plan. We are moving from high taxes and high welfare, to low taxes and low welfare. The Government is not only making changes to tax credits. It has also cut income tax every year for the past five years. 27 million people have already had their income taxes come down, and even better the income tax reductions will continue. In a few years time none of us will be paying any tax on the first £12,500 we earn.[1] Under the Government’s new system, not only we will have greater security about our pay, the tax man will be taking less of it in the first place.

The fear people feel about the changes we are making is understandable. Some elements or right wing twitter reacted unfortunately after it emerged that Michelle Dorrell, who raised the issue of tax credits on Question Time recently, may not actually be affected by the changes[2]. However, I think people need to understand the fear of those who base their family budgets on tax credits: The change represents a new situation that you have not experienced, so you do not know if you can manage. You are too busy trying to put food on the table, get the kids to school and get to work on time, to grapple with numbers being thrown by so-and-so think tank against such and such analyst. Until the new situation is in place the prospect of change will be unnerving, because you know more or less how the current system works but not how the new one will. As centre-right people active on social media our job is to explain not to attack.

The British people are exchanging a lifetime of uncertainty for one spring’s. Having lived in a single parent family that used tax credits to get by, I recognise how the prospect of changes to them will feel. The whole thing is not made any easier by negative claims about how the changes might affect people, which ignore how Conservatives’ reducing income tax, creating a National Living Wage and offering 30 hours free child will all help. Still, what you need to keep in mind is that once this is done it is done. You won’t have some good years in which the tax man doesn’t try to claw back money from you, and some bad years in which unexpectedly he does. You won’t need to worry about the ‘what if’ of it happening. That will all be gone. Instead, you will know from your pay slip exactly how much money you have to plan for the future. Plus, you will be able to make those plans knowing that under the Conservatives’ income tax will continue to come down every year.

[1] David Cameron, Speech to Conservative Party Conference, 1 October 2014, link
[2] Telegraph, 16 October 2015, link

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Letter to students

Its been too long since I blogged. I apologise for that. I am grateful to those of you who have done me the honour of visiting this blog. In future I will try to make sure it does not go through months of inactivity. I have yet to decide what topic I wish to tackle next. While I work that out I hope the following letter, which a teacher friend of mine asked me to write to her students, will suffice. It is not strictly political. It should, in some small way, add a little depth to where I get my politics though:


Your teacher has asked me to tell you my story, as she believes it will encourage you to write your own stories in the future.

My early life, I assume, was quite similar to many of yours. I grew up a third generation Jamaican immigrant in South London, under the care of a single Mother, with plenty of help from my Grandma. As a child I just tried to work hard and make my family proud. Comparing our childhoods I doubt you will find much different.

I was lucky enough to graduate from Oxford University. Before I went to university nobody in my family had done so, so I decided I would. I wanted my Mum and Gran to feel it was worth struggling to raise me. Studying Theology at Keble College, Oxford, gave me a chance to give a little back to them.

Life at Oxford was amazing, I highly recommend it. It was very different to what I was used to, which excited and intimidated me. I was keen not to mess up, so keen that I withdrew a bit and did not use the university as I should have. For all that, I regret nothing from my time there. I enjoyed it and I can use my missteps to guide you.

In families with a tradition of university going people get guided through the system. For those of us not from these families there is a lot to figure out. I am happy with where I have ended up. The journey there could have been simpler though. I fell into Oxford. At 14 I did not think about what I wanted to study at 18, and choose my GCSEs and A levels to get there. At Oxford I did not plan ahead, and use its networks to make my career happen. I should have. Learn from what I did not do, make getting to where you want to go easier.

After university I struggled to find a job I loved until Mark Harper MP employed me in his Parliamentary office. I am a natural Conservative. Thanks to my heritage, I value freedom more than anything. How can I not given my ancestors were slaves? Further, growing up as I did, I saw repeatedly that sometimes there is no good option, just bad, worse and even worse. This taught me that it is often necessary to make difficult decisions to get on in life. I came to see government could not solve all my problems. I learned that you cannot achieve financial security by more spending, more borrowing and more taxes. Still, it was not until a year after I left Oxford that working in politics occurred to me.

When I decided to try and get into politics I had no idea where to start. Luckily, after a hopeful application, I got interviewed by Nick Boles (now an MP too) for a role at Conservative Central Office. Nick explained to me how important it would be to intern, and get some practical experience on my CV. His advice set me on the way to where I am now.

Never underestimate how much people want to help you. When I went to work for Mark Harper I was, frankly, not ready. When I began the jobs I have had since, at the Confederation of British Industry, Conservative Central Office, and at Brevia Consulting, I was also not ready. I have learned that things that seem totally normal to me, coming from where we come from, may seem totally other to those who do not (though everything you picked up as a kid about not snitching is very useful in politics!) I have had to learn to think much harder before I act, and I would be lying if I said I am always successful doing so. Yet, again, I regret nothing.

I have met truly brilliant people in politics and public affairs willing to help me learn. Listing all their names would take too long. Plus, some may find it harder to their jobs if I mentioned their names! Yet they will always have my affection, as they have given me some of the best years of my life. In part thanks to them I am here writing this to you: Helping you to understand how to get the right experience on your CV, before you leave university, to get the job you want. Helping you to understand how different expectations can be in different environments, so you can be ready for that. Helping you to have the skills you need to build a brighter more secure future for yourself.

I hope I have managed to pass on this help to you. I hope someday you can help other people coming from where we come from in the same way. Nobody should feel that a professional career, or any kind of career, is off limits to them. Where you start out from is irrelevant. Where you end up is all that matters. Whatever you want from life is achievable.

I wish you all the best.

Myles Alexander Bailey

Sunday, 28 June 2015

In our past is the surest defence for our future

‘People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors’ (Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790, link).

The tragic events of the past few days, in Europe, North Africa and the Near East, remind us that our civilisation is under siege. The extremists who hate our way of life will not stop attacking us. What motivates them is hatred, not of what we do but of what we are. To our extremist enemies the West, with its emphasis on freedom of speech, belief, expression and enterprise, is a threat. The liberties enjoyed in London give hope to those who are repressed in Raqqa. As long as we live, those slaving under the dominion of Daesh will hope for freedom. Accordingly, Daesh and its sympathisers will do everything they can to undermine our society. In the face of this pressure Britain, and the rest of the West, must not back down. Instead, we must take the fight to Daesh, intellectually as well as militarily. Our society must regain its self-confidence, and its ability to assert its values, in the face of such an uncompromising enemy. Conservatism, by reviving the memory of the best principles upon which British society was built long ago, can provide the spark for that.

To stand up to extremism the West must reject relativism, and remember our society is built upon a belief in truth. Too often we appear afraid to assert that our civilisation is better the extremist alternative. I believe that is because somewhere along the line we allowed our liberalism to be corrupted into relativism. We allowed the unalienable right of freedom to believe to mutate, and something very noble became the ignoble view that all beliefs should be seen as being equally true. Many who feel instinctively that extremism is wrong find themselves unable to condemn it as a result. They are tied in knots by the mistaken idea that what might be wrong to us, may not be objectively wrong to someone else. Yet, that idea itself undermines our liberty. If liberty is not objectively good, true and beautiful, then how can we actually defend it? If our freedoms are not ours by right, on what basis are we fighting those who wish to strip them from us?

Western society was built upon the truth that all men are created equal. This truth is the root from which all other aspects of our liberal democracy have grown. The minds responsible for our society observed that when we come into this world we are the same. Or to paraphrase the Bible, we all come into the world naked, leave it the same way and we can’t take anything with us when we die.[1] From this those thinkers came to see that, as we are all equal, nobody has a fundamental right to rule over others or infringe on another’s freedom. People should be free to think, do, or say what they want, provided that thinking does not compromise someone else’s freedom. To the giants of the Western intellectual tradition it would have been a self-evident truth that extremists are free to hold their views. Not because all opinions should be viewed as equally true, but because our right to freedom of expression gives us the right to be freely wrong:

‘If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind…the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error’ (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859, pp 30-31, link). 

Belief in the truth of the basic equality of all is the basis for our society, it is the basis for being able to say our civilisation is better than the extremist alternative, and it also has the merit that it can stand on religious grounds too. Extremists see our society as divided and decadent. They believe that our lack of uniformity shows us to be disunited and ripe for attack. Again they are wrong. Our freedoms arise from the fact that, as a society, we believe that all people come into the world equal. In Western society people of all faiths and none can co-exist because, regardless of what side of the divide you sit on, there is widely held unspoken agreement on ideals best expressed by America’s founding fathers:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’ (U.S. Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776, link).

What Daesh sees as decadence and disorder, as a belief in nothing, we should never forget are expressions as a belief in something very beautiful: A belief shared by all, whether they believe men are made equal by God or by blind chance, that we are all equal. That belief we Westerners hold, just as proudly and resolutely as the extremists hold theirs. It is the foundation of our opposition to slavery, to our insistence on people being able to live as they like, to think and act as they like, to worship and pray as they like… Extremists sneer that we cannot defeat them because they love death more than we love life. Our response should be that as we love life so much, and we share a common conception of its beauty, and the equal value of all life, none of us will be easily parted from it.

May all those who have been victims of Islamist terror rest in peace...

[1] Cf. Ecclesiaties 5:15, link

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Road to 2020

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Conservatives are already thinking about how to win the 2020 Election. According to Matthew D’Ancona, the Conservatives want to use their majority to prove to working people that they are on their side. Generally speaking, I agree with D’Ancona. David Cameron’s 2015 General Election victory gives Conservatives the opportunity to show the British people we want them to have the chance for a better life. However, to some extent, I think D’Ancona overcomplicates what the Conservatives need to do to achieve that.

First, the Conservatives must remember the desire for security is what motivates people to vote. Generally speaking, what the British people desire from government is security. Britons are not, by and large, a nation of politicos. Between elections we do not enjoy, or wish, to spend much time thinking of what’s going on in the Westminster village. Most of us are too busy thinking about how to support our families, get to work, pay for the kids’ school uniforms and lunches, and pay our taxes and bills, to worry about who performed better at Prime Minister’s Questions. We want to feel confident that if we get sick the NHS will be there for us. We want to feel secure about the quality of the schools we can send our children to. Above all we want to feel that the economy is being managed well, so our jobs are not under threat and we can have the security offered by a regular pay packet.

Second, Conservatives must reassure the British people that they were right to believe that difficult decisions are needed to guarantee a secure future, and that they were right to put their trust in the Conservatives to make those difficult decisions. A great deal of politics is decided by reinforcing the positive perceptions people have about you, and the negative perceptions they have of your opponents. Because Britons are not overly interested in politics, we tend to stick to our long-held views about political parties. The key to winning is helping people focus on your strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses. In his article D’Ancona noted one or two particular policies that he feels may hamstring the Conservatives. My contention is if these were as fatal as some think David Cameron would not be our Prime Minister. The British people elected the Conservatives because they trust us to take the difficult decisions to secure Britain’s future. In life, as in politics, often the only choice we have is between something bad and something worse. Growing up as the child of a single mother in South London I saw that on a daily basis. Hardworking people, who struggle to get by on average wages, get this. They live it. The real battle is not about policies themselves but, as D’Ancona himself highlights, why people think you are doing what you do: your motives. Labour will try to reinforce the negative impressions of why Conservatives do what we do. In the face of this attack, Conservatives must explain the reasons for our actions. We must never forget to say why the difficult decisions we are taking are necessary, or to remind people that by taking them we are securing the chance of a better future for them, their families and our country.

The Conservatives won the 2015 General Election because working people felt more security with us than with the alternative. To win in 2020 the Conservatives need to remind the British people they were right to feel this way. Sensible, stable government that shows empathy even when taking difficult decisions, and delivers lower taxes and more jobs is the surest road to 2020. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

One month on

A month ago yesterday David Cameron walked back into Downing Street as the leader of a Conservative majority government. On that day the British people placed our trust in the Conservative party to secure a better future for all of us, and to bring Britain together again as one nation. Already the next stages of the Conservatives’ long-term plan to do this are taking shape.

Those of us who work in and around the Westminster village can become too fixated on things that, while interesting, mean the bigger picture gets missed. At the moment the ‘big story’ in Westminster is about ‘splits’ in the Conservative party on the issue of ‘Europe’. Yet, while the press try to find MPs to dispute detailed procedural points, the Conservatives have quietly got on with delivering their manifesto commitments to help people have a better life.

In the first Queen’s Speech announcing their plans for Government, the Conservatives reaffirmed their commitment not raise income tax, national insurance or VAT. Instead, David Cameron will deliver his commitment to cutting income tax on lower and middle earners. The result of this will be that someone working 30 hours on the minimum wage will pay no income tax at all, and more people will have the financial security to plan for the future they want for themselves and their families.

The Cameron Government is also helping more people achieve the dream of owning their own home. Its Help to Buy scheme is helping hard working people on their deposits, and its Right to Buy extension is giving more people extra control over their lives and a chance to have more of a stake in our society.

Additionally, the Government is continuing to take the difficult decisions to keep our economy. Thanks to the confidence created by George Osborne dealing with our deficit, Britain has created 2 million jobs since David Cameron became Prime Minister. Giving businesses the confidence to keep investing in Britain is essential to helping more people enjoy the security of a regular pay packet.

When he won the 2015 General Election, David Cameron said he had been given a ‘sacred trust’ by the British people. We, as one nation, had placed in his hands our hopes for a good life for ourselves, our families and our county. The vagaries of the 24 hour news cycle means sometimes the Westminster village may forget that. However, the British people can be confident that the Prime Minister and his team never will.