As a grassroots activist for 25 years, the Conservative Party is my home. I know the hard work activists and volunteers do behind the scenes because, like so many MPs, I’ve done it myself. I’ve enjoyed many days stuffing envelopes, canvassing, fundraising and chairing branch events – all those jobs behind the scenes that keep our Party running smoothly. The voluntary party really is ‘The’ Conservative Party. The legitimacy and power of Conservative MPs come directly from you.
So I know what a rollercoaster the last three weeks have been for everyone. Maria was an excellent candidate and it must be a very tough day for her. We’ve all worked incredibly hard to try to win the Eastleigh seat. And we’ve shared the load. I worked with a team of 10 councillors and activists from my Windsor constituency alongside hundreds of other Conservative activists on the doorsteps in Eastleigh. I was there on Election Day door-knocking with hundreds more. The camaraderie among MPs and activists was infectious. It is reassuring that we can still pull together as a Party in tough circumstances to get the message across that the country would be better with a wholly Conservative Government. I saw first-hand how hard we can work. So I’m obviously very disappointed by the result.
In Eastleigh I met and talked to voters on the streets and at their homes. We listened very carefully to what people had to say. I’ve always believed that you need to be an active listener. Only then can you devise policies that address people’s concerns effectively. What I learned in Eastleigh is that people want us to focus on implementing clear policies that address the things that really matter to them. They want us to redouble our efforts to get growth back into the economy and take positive steps in the Budget to create more jobs through thriving British businesses. They want to see action right now. They want to feel confident about the future. And they want to know that we are on their side and will protect our interests in Europe.
By-elections are always unpredictable and this result is a wake-up call for all of us. It’s quite clear that we must refocus our efforts so that the Eastleigh result isn’t repeated across the country in 2015. We need to face up to the reasons why we lost and take action to make changes as quickly as possible. We must relentlessly cut Labour’s deficit. But we also need to encourage businesses, SMEs and sole traders. We need to help them export to new markets and make Britain the first-choice place to invest. We need to help British businesses regain their confidence; help them feel like they can invest, take on staff and grow.
As a Party, what we need to do now is to learn from this result. We need to take this result very seriously. I am optimistic about the future and we have time to turn things around. I want the Party to concentrate on policies that can deliver economic growth for the country sooner rather than later.
Sometimes failure is needed to refocus the effort to succeed. I think this result gives us a valuable opportunity to reflect on the decisions we’ve taken so far. It gives us the chance to move forward with policies that will help us win in 2015.
I know that there will be questions in the media about the threat posed by UKIP. It would be easy to start throwing our weight around and slinging mud in every direction. But that’s not the sensible way of going about things. We need to reflect calmly. We need to think carefully about what people are saying to us. Now is not the time to get side-tracked from the central issues facing the Country. David Cameron is doing a good job in difficult
circumstances and we must all work together and make every effort to help him and our Party get it right.