Over the weekend, I kept hearing Conservatives saying, Labour will do anything for the working class except trust them in a referendum (or similar), I suspect largely based on Fraser Nelson’s very good piece in the Telegraph on Friday.
The thing is though that the referendum is not really the point. There are two problems with the phrase. The first is that a referendum isn’t the be all and end all. And the second is more substantive and repeats the point I made on the day of David Cameron’s EU speech: which is that there are MANY more important things in peoples lives than a referendum, the EU and any and all related topics.
As has been pointed out several times this morning, not least in Peter Kellner‘s excellent round-up and by Nick Faith of Policy Exchange, the top ten most read stories on the BBC website on Wednesday did not include a single word about the EU or the speech.
People are, as I noted on Wednesday, far more concerned about their day to day lives – the cost of living, their children’s education, their local hospital and so on.
The next two and a half years cannot be about the EU. There are bigger and more important things to worry about. It’s imperative that the government moves on from this – the promise is made, the work will be done, but simply spraying voters with ‘vote for us because we’ll let you vote again on something we know isn’t top of your list of priorities but has sent our party round in ever-decreasing circles for decades’ is not going to win us the next election.
Perhaps the most damaging thing about that phrase however is what it doesn’t say but leaves open to implication: that Tories aren’t best on any other policies for ordinary people. That we don’t care about education, health, localism, elderly or social or child care, or the environment or the rest of the world or any of the things that matter to us all – that the only thing that we think people care about is the EU. Much of the rest of Fraser’s piece, with his focus on consumer power and choice, the collapse in trust in institutions, the amazing potential of the Big Society, does indeed focus on those things.
So this has to be delivered as full spectrum Conservatism, the Politics of And, modernising 2.0 (or whatever you want to call it). Once again, it is an argument for further bold and radical steps – of pushing through and trumpeting success in areas such as education and health reform where people can choose for themselves how the state serves them, or tax-cuts for the lowest paid. It is best summed up in the principle that Conservatives trust the people while Labour manipulate the state – but it has to speak to all the concerns of 46 million electors, and the 62 million people who live here, and not a narrow clique.