In the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson muses about the recent cataclysmic election. This is no time to rest on our laurels! Boris begins:
“It is now a month since that amazing victory on the night of May 7, and it is fair to say that for most of us the full implications are only still sinking in.It is like some giant battle that has been locked in a seeming stalemate – only for one side to make a sudden and sensational series of gains. The Tory tanks have punched spectacularly through the enemy lines. Across the political landscape the opposition are in chaos, their generals putting on pyjamas and cork moustaches in the hope of escaping, and everywhere you look their troops are in flight, with mattresses and chicken coops figuratively strapped to the roofs of their cars.
Everyone is still gobsmacked at the scale of the reversal, victors and vanquished alike – and all military history surely suggests that this is the moment of maximum opportunity: an opportunity that may never come again.
This is not the time to rest, to have a cuppa, and let our tank engines sit gentlypinking in the sun. This is not the moment to allow the other side to regroup and come to terms with what has happened. This is the moment to drive on, to seize and hold new ground, to do things we have wanted to do for decades.
They never saw this coming, in the chancelleries of Europe. They believed the polls, and concluded that there was little chance of the Tories being able to deliver on their promise of a referendum. Well, now we have the opportunity to produce reform that is right for Britain and right for Europe, and all the momentum is with the Prime Minister. Let’s get a deal that is good for the productiveness and competitiveness of the whole EU economy; and in making the case it strikes me that there is only one negotiating position that is sensible.
You can’t begin talks by telling our friends in the rest of Europe we hate the whole Brussels caboodle, and are determined to recommend a No. Why, in the face of such fundamental negativity, should they make any concessions to Britain? And symmetrically it would be ludicrous to tell them that whatever happens we will want to stay in the club, and can therefore be counted on supinely to vote Yes to continued membership. That would rightly be seen as hopeless tactic, and, again, unlikely to produce reforms or concessions of any substance. There is only one way forward, and that is to enter the negotiations in good faith, but to make clear that if we don’t see progress then we must be prepared to walk away.
My friends, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is the first time in my adult existence that Britain is leading a campaign for change and reform in the EU that is backed up by the prospect of an in-out referendum. We cannot be half-hearted; we cannot just throw this chance away. Now is the time to rev up our engines, and fan out through the gap. It is clear that David Cameron is already making the running in Europe. Angela Merkel has said – of course! – that treaty change is possible. Plenty of other countries agree with our stance on migrant benefits; plenty agree that the EU machine needs to be less intrusive, and that national parliaments must be more involved, and that the religion of “Ever Closer Union” has had its day. Now is the chance to build that coalition for reform. It may not be easy, and it may take a while – beyond 2016, I am sure. But it can be done – and the same can be said, of course, about the rest of the political agenda.
We must drive on, we must take and settle that vast tract of centre ground – the one that Tony Blair so effectively colonised and that Ed Miliband so rashly vacated. Labour are in a shambles. They have executed a messy U-turn on the EU referendum; they have at last admitted that they spent too much before the crash. They are all now parroting the Tory manifesto and babbling about “aspiration”, even though John Prescott claims not to know what the word means (a bit odd, you might think, for a chap known as Two Jags).
Their leadership campaign is already splendidly acrimonious. But we can’t afford to let them get organised. We need to push on, to be overwhelmingly and incontestably the party that supports people who are working hard and who want to get on in their lives, the party that breaks down metaphorical doors and gives people chances in jobs and in housing and education. Yes, we can and should cut taxes; but One Nation Tories have got to recognise that inequality matters. We cannot just shrug at the wealth gap.
And of course it is true that Ed Miliband lost the argument about how to tackle inequality – his campaign was based on a ragbag of mainly vacuous measures to bash the rich – but he was surely right to draw attention to the problem. It cannot be sensible that we still have companies whose chief executives are given eye-watering salaries and private jets and chauffeured limos, and yet who receive more in subsidies for their lowest paid workers – in the form of in-work benefits – than they pay in taxation. Our five leading supermarkets, for instance, are effectively receiving £1 bn a year in taxpayer-funded subsidies for their wages bill.
How have we got into this mess? Thanks to Gordon Brown. How do we get out? Not by hitting the low paid, but by championing them, by speaking up for them and by insisting that their firms pay them decently.
As we go forward towards the next election, every vehicle in the Tory convoy should be bear a fluttering pennant saying “Living Wage.” Winston Churchill campaigned for it in the early years of the last century, and he was right.
The political landscape is in flux. Labour is in disarray – but eventually they will get their act together. If we want to keep serving the interests of the British people, at home and abroad, then we need to engage our forward gears and roar on, so that the breakthrough becomes a full-scale breakout.