The Prime Minister has a talented group of advisers around her, which guarantees her 2018 conference speech will be superbly crafted. The 2018 conference theme, opportunity, also gives her a great theme to work with: Allowing her to talk about how her plans are designed to open doors for people. Tomorrow she will undoubtedly give a very good speech. However, to make it a speech that stays in the memory she must use what she says to craft a new narrative for her government: A central theme that ensures hardworking people understand how government is delivering things that will benefit us and our families.
She must not treat Brexit as something separate to her agenda, instead Brexit should become just another issue that showcases her agenda: An agenda to give people more of a say over their own lives and deliver the security that comes from having control over where we are going in the future. Too often politicians treat Brexit as an obstacle that must be navigated so they can get back to talking about domestic issues. This is not the optimal approach. One of the great insights of the Leave campaign during the 2016 EU referendum was the desire of people to ‘take back control.’ Vote Leave was able to recognise that many voters felt disenfranchised, felt powerless about their futures and wanted to have more of sense of where they were going. In the way the Prime Minister talks about Brexit she must tap into that vein of feeling. Recent research published by Britain Thinks indicates that ‘swing voters feel they are facing an anxious and uncertain future.’ Because people feel they have no control over where they are going they feel anxiety. The desire for greater control, which will deliver them greater security for the future, is the framing narrative the Prime Minister must apply to Brexit and everything else she does.
She must make the conference theme come alive for normal people. Conservatives can sometimes forget our cultural assumptions when we talk politics. When we discuss opportunity, it seems self-evident that it is a good thing. However, to many people that is not the case. To many people opportunity is just a word. Indeed, some people may read it negatively. Some many ask ‘what do I care about the opportunity to do more? I just want to feel secure with what I have.’ In the way she speaks the Prime Minister must give the word ‘opportunity’ emotional content, so that it makes an emotional connection with the electorate. In short, if you are struggling to get on in life the Prime Minister must explain why opportunity is the answer. She must help the public see that opportunity is not an abstract good but something that speaks to the fear for the future pollsters are noting in voters. She must demonstrate that she wants to give people opportunity so that they can have more control over their own lives, so that they can have greater security and feel that they are masters of fate not its victims.
She must contrast her platform with that of the opposition in a way that helps the electorate understand the choice ahead. Fundamentally, when it comes to addressing the problems felt by voters, Labour’s answer is state action. However, the Britain Thinks research illustrated that moving further to the left is a net -22% negative for Labour among swing voters. People understand their children will not be able to afford mortgages if the government mortgages their children’s futures by spending more, borrowing more and taxing more. The Prime Minister must make clear why Labour’s promises are not built on solid foundations but will lead to people having less more in their pockets, less security about getting by day by day and therefore less of the control over their lives and their futures.