Taking Britain Forward From Here
‘The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself,’ said Plato.
While Conservative party member will rightly celebrate their huge win in yesterday’s general election, all returning and first-time MPs should engrave Plato’s words on their hearts.
Boris Johnson has spoken this morning of gaining a ‘stonking majority’. He is right. This is the largest Conservative win since Margaret Thatcher was in her prime.
Big wins, of course, carry with them huge responsibilities and questions going forward. For Prime Minister Johnson and his cabinet, three questions should be uppermost in their minds.
The first relates to Brexit. In this election, voters rejected the idea that the 2016 referendum result was merely advisory, as some Remain voters had claimed, and that the country needs and wants a second referendum.
To a degree, this election was about Brexit - whether it should go forward and whether stubborn Remainer MPs in the last Parliament were right to dither and delay its delivery.
One thing is clear today. This result must put to bed once and for all any recalcitrance MPs may feel about moving forward Britain’s divorce from the European Union.
That said, once Britain has officially left the EU - which Mr Johnson promised again this morning to do by the end of January - there remains the rather more complex task of sorting out the details of this nation’s future trading relationship with the EU and then building trade networks elsewhere.
While the Prime Minister is manifestly a fine salesman, policy detail is not his strength. It doesn’t need to be, as he will have some gifted strategists around him.
He needs to entrust the Brexit negotiations to someone who will rigorously pursue the detail, in the interests of the entire British nation - not just its southern cities - without seeking the limelight or personal political glory.
Michael Gove and Boris Johnson both acknowledged this morning that today’s victory was aided by people who had ‘loaned’ their vote to Conservatives. The Prime Minister promised to work hard to prove worthy of that trust going forward.
A sure way to waste the currency of that trust would be for anyone associated with the Brexit process to appear vainglorious.
Some Remainers supported the Conservatives because they felt, rightly in my view, that the wishes of the 2016 majority were being ignored by Parliament and that this is unacceptable in a democracy.
Remainers who now just want to ‘get Brexit done’ will not take kindly to seeing the issue treated as a platform for enhancing political careers.
The Prime Minister also needs to ensure that bickering within Tory ranks on the shape of Britain’s future relationship with the EU and the world is kept to a minimum. He should listen to dissenting voices, but continue to lead from the front.
Those who reluctantly voted Conservative, in the interests of fair play over Brexit, may be turned off by any bickering and posturing within the Tory ranks when it comes to the shape of final trade deals with and beyond the EU.
A second challenge for Mr Johnson will be to re-engage Scotland and re-energise Northern Ireland.
The SNP has seen a reasonably good election result. Nicola Sturgeon, being an independence ideologue, will interpret the result purely as a mandate for a second referendum on that subject.
SNP gains, though, have mainly come at the expense of the Labour Party. So, independence will not have been the only factor in play in the voters’ minds.
Anti-Corbyn and anti-radical-socialist sentiment, which played a role in Labour’s defeat across Britain, will have played a role in Labour’s losses. As will the weakness of the Lib Dems, who still appear to want to position themselves as little more than the non-Conservative-non-Labour party.
More importantly, issues relating to the health service, education and other social challenges will have featured strongly in the minds of Scottish voters.
It is much harder for Conservatives to win these arguments north of the border - it always has been. So, Ms Sturgeon should not be allowed to depict the vote as being focused solely on independence.
The Prime Minister will need to recognise this fact and directly engage Scots in carrying through the types of social policies he outlined before to the election.
That’s especially true when it comes to improving the health service and boosting education and policing and education. He must also focus on strengthening aged care and other aspects of the social net.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has been without an internal government for almost three years. Nobody in their right mind would say that keeping political peace in the province is easy, but the current situation is ridiculous.
The Northern Ireland Assembly must find a way forward, with the engagement of and pressure from Downing Street and Westminster. Leaving the province to slip and slide without intervention is a recipe for further problems down the road, especially when Northern Ireland will feature prominently in EU negotiations.
Finally, the Prime Minister must work hard to restore faith in Parliament and the processes of governance, generally.
In the minds of too many voters, MPs in the last Parliament behaved more as ideologically-inclined obstructionists than pragmatically-oriented pro-activists. This has been most evident on Brexit, but parliamentary shenanigans in general have left a sour taste in the mouths of many voters.
Politicians must remember that they are elected not primarily for their ideology, but for their ability to recognise and solve problems. If they cannot do this, they will pay dearly when people next go to the polls.
More importantly, the country will pay dearly, for if ever there is a moment in British politics for problem-solving leadership, as distinct from place-holding elitist posturing, it is now.
Britain is already a prosperous nation, but there are still people who’re left behind in the face of technological advance and globalisation.
If ever there was a time when Brits needed to feel connected to and consulted by their representatives, of all parties, it is today.
If ever Britain needed leadership that facilitates a proactive culture, rather than mismanagement that celebrates mediocrity and promotes disunity, we need it now.
It is time for political representatives to discipline any urges they may feel toward grabbing headlines, or jostling for party position.
This is the moment for Prime Minister Johnson, his cabinet and party and the wider parliament to offer a better vision for Britain’s long-term future and implement a clear strategy to take us there.
It can be done. This is a resourceful, innovative and alliance-building nation. It only needs the right kind of disciplined leadership to thrive.