I well remember the anxiety I felt in June 2017.
Theresa May had just come dangerously close to losing the General Election, even though her opponent was Jeremy Corbyn – a desperate state of affairs. The Conservative Party was in a bad way.
It seemed to me then that it would take some clever people to rescue us, and some unity.
And so it proved. The party pulled together. Our best electoral asset – our perpetual winner – Boris Johnson agreed to stand as leader.
The rest you know. The public backed him and in 2019 we won our 80-seat majority, our biggest since 1987.
Today, I’m experiencing the same frisson of alarm as I did five years ago – only this time, I’m scrabbling for an answer.
Our big beast has gone.
Nadine Dorries asks can Liz Truss turn things around from what appears to be the terminal position we are now in?
When I saw him on Wednesday, Boris was practising his swing with a cricket bat and I have to say I’ve never seen him looking more relaxed. Our new PM, Liz Truss, had finished her speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, and his message to me was unequivocal: ‘Back Liz,’ he said as he swung the bat and squinted at an imaginary ball in the middle distance. ‘Back Liz.’
Well, I do back Liz, but the question is this: after a truly calamitous start, can she turn things around from what appears to be the terminal position we are now in?
It began, of course, with the announcement that she would reduce taxes on the very rich from 45 pence in the pound to 40 pence.
Cutting taxation is a laudable Conservative ambition. I’m with her. But there are ways to do it. If you want to decrease personal taxation, do it incrementally and carefully, like Margaret Thatcher did.
You can’t spring fiscal surprises on the markets at a time when the global economy is fragile and not expect them to react negatively. It was always going to happen.
Ms Dorries argues that Liz Truss’s announcement that she would reduce taxes on the very rich from 45 pence in the pound to 40 pence was always going to make markets react negatively (Pictured together in 2019)
It was the right thing to do to reverse the increase in corporation tax driven through by former Chancellor Rishi Sunak – the man whose misguided personal ambition led him to his own ‘Et tu’ moment in removing Boris Johnson.
Business hated the proposed increase. It sent out the message that if you want to invest and grow in the United Kingdom, the Government is waiting to fleece you.
The markets were, however, ready for the climbdown on corporation tax. The groundwork had been done, they knew the plan. And the response was positive, because that’s how it works.
We also need a U-turn on the announcements affecting animal welfare. Why say you are going to relax the ban on foie gras, a ‘delicacy’ that involves the cruel force-feeding of geese? Or on the live export of animals? Many of our voters actually like animals. Such voters include my entire family, who have said they will no longer vote Conservative on the basis of these policies alone. They took the same view in 2017 when Theresa May merely hinted at reversing the hunting ban.
Our new PM, Liz Truss, had finished her speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, and Boris Johnson’s message to me was unequivocal: ‘Back Liz,’ he said
The only thing Liz Truss could have announced which would have made my heart sink further would be scrapping Boris Johnson’s social care reforms, due to be introduced in 2023.
The reforms he personally put in place mean that families will be protected from catastrophically high costs if a family member is admitted to a care home for a long period of time.
The protections will cost less than one per cent of the health budget but be a lifeline to those who need a solution to a difficult problem.
Prime Ministers ducked this thorny issue for decades. Boris grasped the nettle and there are no circumstances in which any hint of scrapping these reforms would not bring us a world of grief.
The only thing Liz Truss could have announced which would have made my heart sink further would be scrapping Boris Johnson’s social care reforms, due to be introduced in 2023. (Ms Dorries and Boris Johnson pictured together in May)
Meanwhile, something else has become clear in the past fortnight.
We are now a staggering 38 points behind Labour in the so-called Red Wall seats in northern England and the Midlands, which tells us that voters there – who’d previously backed Labour all of their lives – did not vote for the Conservative Party, but for Boris Johnson himself. And that without him at the head of the party, they will revert to Labour. The polls suggest, in fact, that we have already lost them.
This makes turning things around extremely hard.
For those who think Rishi Sunak is the answer, by the way, I think the polls tell a very different story. Our percentage deficit would be reduced with Rishi at the helm, but we would still be around 20-plus points behind and facing wipeout. There is a universal truth in politics: you cannot beat the swing.
So for what it’s worth, here is my advice to Liz Truss in a desperate attempt to reverse the self-harm Conservative MPs have inflicted on our party.
Bring Grant Shapps inside the tent of Government.
Grant toured the party conference trying to convince MPs that he’s the continuity candidate. MPs don’t agree. He has always had ambitions to be Prime Minister, but many of us have had to realise at some point that it’s not what we were put on this planet to do.
Here is my advice to Liz Truss in a desperate attempt to reverse the self-harm Conservative MPs have inflicted on our party. Bring Grant Shapps (pictured) inside the tent of Government
I’ve known Grant for many years. While the party wants a winner, not a continuity project, he has huge experience and many skills – and would never stab Liz in the back.
She needs him on the inside, aiming out, not the other way round.
Michael Gove, though, must stay out in the cold. He, too, toured the conference – but in search of the nearest camera on behalf of Rishi. Michael’s days are over. He can be ‘unhelpful,’ as a good chief whip might say.
With that in mind, Make Alister Jack or Leo Docherty chief whip and get former soldiers Johnny Mercer and Tom Tugendhat into the whips’ office fast. Party discipline has completely broken down. It’s time to bring in the Army.
Remove Mark Fullbrook, your Chief of Staff, from No 10 as soon as possible. Did you learn nothing from the Dominic Cummings fiasco? Put Steve Barclay back into Downing Street instead.
A good experienced MP, Steve knows how everything works – and that includes formulating good policy and handling the Civil Service.
Michael Gove (pictured with Ms Dorries in June), though, must stay out in the cold. He, too, toured the conference – but in search of the nearest camera on behalf of Rishi. Michael’s days are over. He can be ‘unhelpful,’ as a good chief whip might say
You should also move back to the centre ground. Most voters are instinctively neither Left nor Right. Two Prime Ministers in recent history understood this: Tony Blair and Boris Johnson. Jeremy Corbyn didn’t get it and you don’t seem to either.
When interest rates and the cost of living are rising you simply cannot start reducing the benefits that sustain Britain’s poorest families.
Yes, the measures to cap what people pay for energy is entirely correct. But you can’t then take the money back by failing to increase benefit payments. Or by making disastrous policy announcements that destabilise the markets, increase mortgage payments and devalue the pound. All in one go.
With rising costs a terrifying prospect, it’s time to get real about the difficulties that so many ordinary families – those millions of middle-ground voters – face this winter.
And it’s time to get real about a Conservative Party which desperately needs to pull together.
If we don’t, the outlook is very bleak indeed.