After campaigning was suspended in the wake of the atrocity committed in Manchester, the democratic process has slowly begun to recommence. As well as focusing on UK police and intelligence efforts to hunt down the terror network behind the bombing, Theresa May will have to return to the business of fighting an election.
In the remaining two weeks of the campaign and beyond, it is crucial for May to learn the right lessons from her Government's biggest misstep since the Spring Budget. Despite the social care U-turn and last weekend's wobble in the polls, the Conservatives still enjoy a healthy lead ahead of Labour. May's credibility appears to remain intact but bruised. There is still a chance that May can recover lost ground before June 8th and win a landslide victory.
The social care U-turn should not distract from the Conservative manifesto's strengths. Many of the pledges are popular with the public, such as increasing NHS spending by £8 billion, raising the national living wage, and reducing immigration. It is still a sober and serious document which identifies the key challenges facing modern Britain as well as presenting realistic policy solutions and shunning political gimmicks.
The philosophical mission stated in the manifesto also remains sound. Conservatism needs to shed its image as a defence of privilege and elitism at the expense of the lower middle- and working-classes, the people who are “just about managing”. Intergenerational inequality is still one of the “five giant challenges” of our time. Perhaps the original social care pledge was a case of prime ministerial overstretch, but to retreat from tackling this problem would be unwise and detrimental to the future of the country.
Where the social care policy did put a foot wrong was by disturbing the delicate balance of class interests that May needs to maintain. The promise of inherited wealth is as much a symbol of aspiration for middle-class Conservative voters as it is a symbol of privilege for working-class Labour voters. May can only win a landslide majority for her mandate of change if she is able to carry votes from across this social spectrum.
What has also become obvious is the need for more inclusive collective decision-making in Downing Street. Nicky Timothy and Fiona Hill are two talented and trusted advisers who have been key to May’s handling of domestic policy, Brexit, and the Union. However, there needs to be greater input from the Cabinet. Regardless of the original social care policy’s merits, the fact that it was inserted into the manifesto at the last moment with little consultation is a serious cause for worry. Vetting policies before they are published will help avoid humiliating U-turns as well as allowing loyal ministers, such as Damian Green, to defend policies without the fear of it being dropped shortly afterwards.
May also needs a parliamentary power base. Conservative MPs will be loyal so long as May is a winner and delivers what they want. Opposition to, or the lack of support for, Philip Hammond’s NIC proposal proved how shallow the loyalty of some MPs are. It seems that there is not a large group of Mayite MPs to help defend May’s agenda when it hits turbulence. Some progress is beginning to be made as Chris White arranged a dinner meeting in 2016 for fellow Mayite MPs, including Tom Tugendhat, Philip Lee, George Freeman, and John Hayes. After June 8th, more could be done to rally new MPs around the defence of Mayism.
Bringing about transformative change is never an easy task. It takes a great deal of time and patience. Margaret Thatcher needed two terms as Prime Minister to change her party and her country. There will be resistance to May’s mission, and the social care U-turn is a serious blow. This is not the end of Mayism but it has exposed organisational flaws which May will have to address if she is to successfully transform the Conservative party.