I will not make a habit of this, David, but I was a candidate in the Witney constituency selection process for the parliamentary seat where you pipped me! I led a coalition with the Liberals in Oxfordshire County Council from 2001 to 2005. Several of the Oxfordshire constituency associations sent me to Coventry, telling me we should not have “got into bed with the Liberals” and that we would never gain control as a result. In 2005, we went from being a hung council to one with a majority of 12, moving to 14 after a by-election. In 2009, we increased our majority to 30.
I think our interests converge in a number of areas:
- I had a Conservative Group some of whom did not like being in coalition; so do you.
- I had Party supporters who felt the Liberals had too much influence in the coalition; so do you.
- I had to anticipate every bear trap waiting for us with an Opposition ready to rubbish our efforts; so do you.
- I had to park several policies we wanted to deliver but the Liberals would not support; so did my Liberal colleagues; so do you.
- I took the County Council to single Party control in 2005 because they saw my Group as the dominant one and the one that delivered financial competence. You can do the same.
- I led my Group into county elections in 2009 that increased our majority because we had a failing Labour government in Westminster but also because we had demonstrated competence in taking the County Council to “Excellent”; you have a failed Labour government behind you and need to remind people of this and you have the competence to persuade the country to trust you.
You need to concentrate on the economy; you will stand or fall on this and you need to have business firmly on your side. To do this you need to strip away stifling rules and regulations whether UK or EU.
It is inreasingly difficult for you to hear what real people are saying and thinking. It is hard to escape from fortress No 10 and fortress Checkers. Those closest to you are in the same position. I walk my dog round my villages; I go to my local pubs and my constituents e-mail me with their views. I am getting clear messages:
- It is the economy, first, second, third and all the rest of the priorities;
- People do not care about gay marrage and do not understand why you do;
- People do not care about constitutional reform and do not understand why you do.
On the latter, Party activists despair at an apparent growing enthusiasm for proportional representation in the voting system. It is rife in Scotland where almost all local councils are hung; it nearly did for Boris in the London Mayoral elections this year; it is to be used in Police & Crime Commissioner elections in November 2012; it is to be used in elected mayor elections elsewhere; it has been used in the European Parliament elections for some time now. This leads to Party domination through the Party list system which people do not like and gives the Liberals a degree of influence for which they crave but which they do not deserve. It may look as if the Liberals are doomed to evisceration but constituional reform is for the long term and anything that could entrench a Liberal blocking vote in the second House would be regretted at some future time in political history. You and I might be long gone but our successors might feel inclined to curse our memories if we bequeathed them a system that gave Liberals a degree of power they do not deserve.