Despite what the media may have you believe, a few of us saw the 2015 general election result coming. The fundamentals were always in place for a small Tory majority; indeed CCHQ’s own private analysis, collated over several months in far more granular detail than any opinion poll, poll of polls, or betting market, predicted just this result more than two years ago. The Prime Minister has been preparing for this moment: when he has the mandate to govern alone, even on a slender majority, and to define this idea, Cameronism.
His acceptance speech in Witney, his constituency, outlined the road ahead. He made a promise to rebuild and reclaim the ‘One Nation Mantle’ for Conservatism. Given the politics of the situation, it would be tempting to think that this means making a ‘big, open and comprehensive’ offer to the SNP to ensure that the union remains in place. But there is more to it – and to Cameron – than that. And there always was.
It was Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who brought the ‘one nation’ idea into the vernacular, who excoriated a Britain of two nations, the rich and the poor, ‘between whom there is no discourse or sympathy,’ as he put it. Government action to empower the disenfranchised and give them the vote was Disraeli’s great legacy.
There is an even richer seam of the idea in the historic respect of Conservatives for local, grass roots campaign groups. Edmund Burke, who socially-minded Tories often pray in aid as their icon, outlined an organic, localist philosophy of free, mutual, solidaristic communities. These miniature ‘free societies’ were the substance of human flourishing, the ‘little platoons’ that give life to communities.
If Cameron is to revive One Nation Toryism, he must find a way to revive this legacy. Our public service infrastructure and the welfare state is today’s bridge between the two nations. Cameron must commit to reforms that encourage modernization of the public sector, more personalization, funding for early intervention to help the hardest to reach and, crucially, enshrining of the right to choice and quality of public services in law: a social contract that rivals Disraeli’s democratic contract.
Secondly, he must reconnect with Britain’s world leading voluntary sector. Our charities, campaign groups and social enterprises are the envy of the world. Under the Coalition – and arguably as a result of the influence of the Liberal Democrats – the Lobbying Act was passed, a piece of legislation designed to curb the voice and the flourishing of the little platoons so revered by Burke. A succession of Ministers – the incomparable Nick Hurd aside – that have underwhelmed and underperformed have further strained the relationship. The Prime Minster needs to take personal responsibility for helping these little platoons flourish. He must reach out. If he does, they will respond and these relationships will stand him in good stead for the many challenges ahead.
It was a source of immense irritation to the Tory literati that Ed Miliband attempted to claim the One Nation mantle for Labour during the course of the election campaign. Miliband could have made hay with this, but instead he submerged it within a bunch of other messages. ‘Britain can do better than this,’ ‘The Party of Working People’ or merely ‘Together’ – as with the whole Labour message it was lost in white noise. Now Cameron, by implementing a truly Tory agenda with a mandate to do so, can right this perceived wrong. This is an opportunity to heal the union and our communities too. If Cameron can revive One Nation Toryism he has a unique chance to be a Prime Minister for the ages.