Brexit is seen by some as the Conservative curse. The theory goes that David Cameron called the referendum to resolve the EU problem once and for all, only for this to blow up in his – and his party’s – face. Where this was once a Tory issue, now it is everyone’s problem. But might that view be wrong? And might Brexit actually be a big opportunity, rather than a hindrance, for the Conservatives to win over supporters who would never in their wildest dreams have even thought about voting Tory?
That’s the view put forward by Esther McVey, who spoke of her experiences on the doorstep, and how she thought Brexit has changed what people now say about her party. Where once voters would have backed Labour – and hated the Tories – as a matter of family tradition, the referendum and the messy aftermath is leading people to have a rethink. McVey told a Tory fringe event last night:
‘It is revolutionising what is going on. This is the battleground. It is a bit like this: I used to knock on doors in Liverpool and various other places and they used to say: ‘I can’t be a Tory because my dad voted Labour and my dad’s dad voted Labour and I just couldn’t do it. Even if you’ve got something good to tell me, i couldn’t vote for you. My dad would turn in his grave’.
‘Gosh, I’ve heard that so many times. Now there is one thing that has happened and that is Brexit. For the first time ever, people are now saying: ‘Do you know what? We are going to look at those Tories again with fresh eyes. Because we voted for Brexit and that word ‘taking control’ is kind of why we did it. We want you, as MPs to do what you say…no dodging…we want sovereignty, we want you to make the rules and we want to take control of our lives.’
If this is the case, McVey would certainly know. While she is now the Tory MP for the safe seat of Tatton, she was narrowly defeated in 2015 in the swing seat of Wirral West (a seat she first won five years beforehand). Wirral backed Remain by a slender margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent, so at the next election it’ll be one of the key seats that could determine the Tories’ fortunes. And if Brexit voters there turn towards the party, they will likely win back the seat from Labour.
McVey is also probably right that even for the ‘never kissed a Tory’ Brexit voter, the Conservatives are now actually – possibly for the first time ever – a viable choice. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who voted Brexit and wants the referendum result to be enacted. As McVey said of Labour: ‘I don’t know what they are doing, but they certainly ain’t delivering Brexit’. Many Brexit voters would agree. And as McVey points out, this means a big opportunity for her party to win over people who are realising of the Tories, the party they once loved to hate, that…
‘…Actually we believe in what you believe. So we do want a safe environment, hence we backed the police. We do want education for everyone because we do believe in self empowerment. And we do believe in Brexit, and that is why and how blue collar conservatism was reborn.’
Of course, this view relies on the Tories managing to convince Brexit party voters to come on board. But the simplicity of the Tories’ slogan – ‘Get Brexit done’ – could be the answer to ensuring that die-hard Labour supporters, who might never have kissed a Tory, vote Tory at the next election for the first time ever.