With the highly likely Conservative sweep at the upcoming general election, more and more questions are being asked of the policies and plans that the party have in mind. The party have been leading the country now for seven years, but as Brexit looms increasingly closer the snap election offers the opportunity for the country to test and assess the Government we have, and provide them with even more power to put their plans in place. Words like ‘strong’ and ‘stable’ have been flying around the election campaign trail, but what exactly are the Conservative’s plans to create the country that fits these heavy adjectives? I spoke to Jonathan Lord, the current Conservative MP for Woking to find out his thoughts on the upcoming election, and to get an insight into the party.
Mr Lord was elected as a Member of Parliament in 2010, at the same time that the Conservatives came into a majority under David Cameron. He is a History graduate from the University of Oxford, and was later Chairman of the Guildford Conservative Association for four years, and the campaign manager for Anne Milton in 2005. His previous experience has also included being a director of Saatchi and Saatchi and serving on Surrey County Council between 2009 and 2011.
Considering the tension that had been felt around Westminster since the announcement of the coming election, my first question was ‘what are your current thoughts on the election and the upcoming vote?’
‘I am pleased that the Prime Minister called for an election,’ Mr Lord immediately replied. ‘I think that it is important that at this crucial time in our country’s history, Theresa May has her own mandate and enters the Brexit negotiations with hopefully a larger majority in Parliament.’ He explained that ‘the Conservatives currently only have a small majority, however this is not the best situation as the country will be taking some big decisions over the next few years. I think she has been brave to call it in the sense that there is never any guarantee of success. The people must choose and they will choose.’ With regards to his own feelings about the challenge he explained to me that ‘I personally welcome it and I am glad that she has made a good start. The polls seem to be encouraging, but it is never over until it’s over. I don’t think any political party or leader will be complacent until the votes are counted.’
‘I think she has been brave to call it in the sense that there is never any guarantee of success’
With the Labour party experiencing divisions over Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership of the party, I was interested to find out how this was being viewed from Mr Lord’s perspective. My next question was, ‘do you think the Opposition pose a credible threat to your party?’
‘I don’t think we have a particularly credible opposition at the moment, which is not an assessment of the functioning of the MPs Labour have, but the fact they have a leader in Jeremy Corbyn who is not respected by the country at large.’ He emphasised that ‘as we know from the Vote of No Confidence that most of the MPs gave him a few months ago he is not even respected in his own parliamentary party. I think that Labour, if they are defeated, will wish to change their leader and start again to try and become a credible and effective opposition party once again, both in parliament and the country. So I think if this election results in a Conservative majority, it will give Labour the opportunity to start over’.
‘Jeremy Corbyn is not even respected in his own parliamentary party’
This nicely led on to the next question I had in mind. I asked, ‘as polls are so clearly indicating at the moment that the Conservatives could have an extreme majority after the election, do you think that there is a risk of a one party state forming, with no strong opposition?’
Mr Lord answered that ‘in terms of potentially a large majority for the Conservatives, it is important to remember that of course Margaret Thatcher had large majorities in 1983 and 1987 and likewise did Tony Blair in 1997 and 2001.’ His background in History is clear as he explained that ‘similarly of course, if you go back in History of Labour had a landslide win in 1945. Obviously, those governments all have different records, but I don’t think there is anything from these examples that suggests that governments with large majorities are ineffectual.’ He paused, ‘if anything it strengthens the hand of the Prime Minister to do necessary and important reforms if they have the will and wish to do that.’
With regards specifically to Theresa May and the likelihood of a large majority being taken, Mr Lord remarked that ‘we will have to see. No one is counting the chickens before they hatch, and the polls have been wrong before. But, certainly I personally think Theresa May is making a good impression on the people since being in power and since the General Election has been called, and likewise Jeremy Corbyn has made a very poor impression indeed, on the people. If that continues I am hoping that the Conservatives win and hopefully have a very good working majority, but the Prime Minister is not going to be complacent, and nor am I until all the votes have been counted.’
Considering that the coming election will decide the Government who will be responsible for negotiating taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union, I was curious as to how Mr Lord viewed the current approach to Brexit, and what insight he could offer on the negotiations. My next question was ‘In terms of the coming exit from the European Union, do you think that Theresa May is taking the right approach in her negotiations for a hard Brexit?’
‘I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it as a hard Brexit’, Mr Lord argued, ‘but I certainly think the Prime Minister is taking the right approach. This country voted to come out of the European Union and I think it is important that we respect the outcome of that referendum, and do indeed come out of the European Union. The Government has made it clear that even though we wish and indeed will be leaving the EU, we wish to maintain extremely close and friendly relations.’ He explained in more detail that ‘if the European Union is willing that would include a full free trade deal where the United Kingdom is able to access European Union markets in a free and completely unfettered way, and likewise we open our markets. The EU countries export a great deal more to us than we export to them, so it also would give EU countries and businesses full access to the UK markets. This is better for consumers, workers and markets and the growth and prosperity of Europe as a whole, including the UK. With regards to the trade negotiations, Mr Lord remarked ‘I hope the EU countries are the friends of the United Kingdom they say there are, and will not try to cut off their nose to spite their face, by giving the UK some sort of punishment for wanting to leave the EU. If everyone is sensible and rational, we will continue to have that very close cooperation and friendship, not least on intelligence and security matters where Britain is a leader in Europe. But also a free, fair and comprehensive free trade deal so all of our workers across the UK and Europe can benefit from growth and prosperity.’
‘If everyone is sensible and rational, we will continue to have that very close cooperation and friendship’
To delve slightly deeper into the upcoming Brexit negotiations, I wanted to inquire about the news that the Conservative Party would rather not agree on a deal for the Single Market, than have a bad deal. I asked just this, ‘Do you think that when negotiating about the single market with European Union it is better to have no deal than a bad deal?’
‘When completing any negotiations with people sitting across the table from you, they need to know that ultimately you are willing to walk away, but honestly that is not the outcome that either side are interested in or indeed realistically contemplating. The United Kingdom’s interests are the same as the other countries of Europe, and I am hoping and expecting that here will be a good deal for all sides.’ He paused, ‘a good deal is potentially a win-win here. No one has to lose if these negotiations are approached in a sensible and rational manner.’
‘A good deal is potentially a win-win here’
To look further at the other policies which the Conservatives will be running their campaign on, my next question was, ‘besides Brexit, what other policies are the Conservatives offering for voters in the election?’
‘We will have to see what it says in our manifesto which will be published in early May.’ Mr Lord began, ‘The Prime Minister has made it clear that her brand of leadership for the country means paying attention to all sections of society. When we have growth and prosperity that prosperity needs to be shared with all of the people of this country and those who work hard.’
Going into more depth on the Conservative agenda, he explained that ‘obviously on education Theresa May has indicated she wishes to introduce some grammar schools to help social mobility, and that everyone should not only have a full stake in our society, but they should be allowed to achieve as many of life’s ambitions that their talents and hard work will enable them to do. Judging from the opinion polls and hearing what people have said to me as I have knocked on doors for the local election campaign, I think Theresa May has made a very good impression on the people during her leadership so far.’ Mr Lord clarified that ‘they see her as a trustworthy figure and someone who has a compassionate yet sound vision for the future of our country. I think, hope, and expect that when all the votes are counted people will have said loudly and clearly that they want her to stay on as Prime Minister, see through the Brexit negotiations and build a more prosperous country. This is where everyone shares in that prosperity, and also our public services are looked after and reformed so they work for the people. That is a vision for our country that I share and I go into this election with great optimism, knowing that of all the current political parties in the United Kingdom, we have by far the best leader.’
‘everyone should not only have a full stake in our society, but they should be allowed to achieve as many of life’s ambitions that their talents and hard work will enable them to do’
I then asked ‘what are your thoughts on Mrs May’s decision not to participate in televised debates, and on claims that this is not providing the public with an opportunity to scrutinise her policies. Is this a positive or negative decision?’
‘I can understand why Theresa May has made that decision’ he argued, ‘the leaders television debates of this country are a fairly recent invention, as they first took place in 2010. And if labour are criticising her, as I know some of them are, they should recall that Tony Blair despite being master of all he surveyed, refused to participate in any television debates. So, there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in what Labour are saying in this matter.’
The issues facing students is another area I wanted to ask Mr Lord about. ‘In terms of young voters’ I began, ‘our newspaper is very student focused, and many of us have concerns about rising house prices and tuition fees, and the increasing challenge of securing a good job. How would you reassure student voters, who largely voted to remain in the EU, that they will have a stable future as we leave?’
‘Obviously we will have to see what it says in our manifesto to know exactly what policies are being focused on at this election.’ He explained, ‘I have a great deal of sympathy with the students of today, I know that it is difficult to get on the housing ladder these days, and I know many students are burdened with having to pay back fees or loans as well. What I would say, is that the jobs market is actually very good if you compare us to France or other European countries where youth unemployment and graduate unemployment are extremely high. I think young people here have a much better chance of getting a job and a good job at that. I think students, despite the fees they are paying, are doing the right thing by furthering their education and getting the qualifications that people increasingly need in the world of work, to secure a really good career. I do not underestimate the difficulties that today’s twenty year olds face that weren’t faced by previous generations and I do think it is important the government keeps careful tabs on that.’ More specifically Mr Lord remarked that ‘in the housing market we have some schemes like Help to Buy, where the government are looking directly at the problems young people face. Unfortunately, we still have a large debt and deficit so money isn’t abundant in terms of what we can do, but we do need justice between the generations and the government should be looking as carefully at students as they do with seniors’.
‘I do not underestimate the difficulties that today’s twenty year olds face’
The interview was concluded there, and the message is clear. Whilst the exact policies cannot be known for sure until the election, the Conservatives are aiming to be a party for all parts of society and wish to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union to create a stronger country. How the British public respond to this message will definitely be interesting in the coming election.