“If you can keep your nerve when all around are losing theirs…” Never have the opening lines of Kipling’s famous poem If been more relevant than in the past week.
With the unrepentant Marxist Jeremy Corbyn advancing in the polls, and the bands of ‘knaves and fools’ – another Kipling-ism – looking increasingly likely to put him in 10 Downing Street, many, myself included, were beginning to lose their nerve.
But all credit to Boris Johnson, a man whose strength of character has been questioned frequently, and I include myself among the questioners. He kept his nerve and delivered a remarkable result, driving a stake through the heart of the Corbyn menace, and clearing the ground for Britain to resume its role as one of the world’s great countries.
But as Boris Johnson starts to plan for the future, there are three great matters he should not overlook. I don’t speak of Brexit: his election victory has transformed the UK/EU scenario.
Brussels is suddenly on the back foot. Britain’s position is crystal clear. It is leaving: no second referendum, no parliamentary blockages. So if the bureaucrats in the Berlaymont want a deal, which they do with increasing desperation, they need to ring up Mr Johnson, ask for an appointment and get on the Eurostar to London. At last, Britain has the whip hand. Brexit is all but behind us now. It is the future which must be addressed.
First and foremost, the Prime Minister must look after those decent honest working people who have won this election for him. They must have those better services, jobs and lives which he promised them, and which they trust him to provide. Yes, the resumption of inward investment which will follow hot on the heels of this election result will provide more jobs and greater job security.
But the British people deserve more than that. They need good trains where people can find a seat; roads which are not permanently choked with traffic; places to park their cars. For the young, they need schools where the quality of the teaching and rigour of the subjects are more important than the modish ‘‘dumbing-down’’ so beloved of faux-doctrinaire educationalists obsessed with useless ‘‘noddy’’ subjects which everyone passes.
For industry, how about turning a few of these pseudo-universities, formerly polytechnics, into technical colleges where the practical engineering skills which Britain desperately needs are taught?
And for the old, many of them former Labour loyalists who have voted Conservative for the first time in their lives, they deserve the care and support which allows them to live out their days in decency.
Secondly, he must drill down into and root out an electoral perversion which defies rational explanation. I speak of those Parliamentary seats which under all normal circumstances should be Conservative strongholds, but where Corbyn’s Labour still held sway. Putney, a prosperous, leafy London suburb. What on earth did its electors see in Corbyn’s brand of Marxism? Yorkshire’s Sheffield Hallam, a natural Tory bastion, and Batley and Spen, traditionally a swing constituency, both still in Labour hands. Why? And London’s Kensington, oozing with wealth and prosperity, where Boris Johnson’s party just scraped home with a tiny majority. They should have won by thousands.
What is motivating the electors in these places? Social conscience? That wouldn’t save them from Corbyn’s tumbrils. Plain ignorance? These people are generally well-educated and rational. I suppose turkeys do sometimes vote for Christmas, but there must be more to it than that. It will take Boris Johnson’s deeds, not words, to overcome this aberration. Fail, and the Corbynistas, or their successors, will be back.
Thirdly, he should address the constituency disparity which allows the Scottish National Party to win 48 seats with little over one million votes, while the poor old Lib Dems, with more than double the number of votes, win only 11. It’s known as the West Lothian Question, and, with the Scots already having their own Assembly in Edinburgh, the answer is to halve the number of Scotland’s Westminster seats. Do this, and the threat to the Union so vigorously promoted by the abrasive Nicola Sturgeon will automatically abate.
But at least we can sleep more peacefully in our beds in this run-up to Christmas. Boris Johnson’s victory will reinforce Nato’s flagging will. British trade will increase, both with the EU and the USA. Inward investment, stalled these past three years, will resume.
On the back of the election result, I myself have just given the green light to a multi-million pound investment programme at our Leeds plant. The British people, ever sensible, have turned their backs on Marxist extremism. It is up to Boris to see that they stay that way.
Sir Andrew Cook is a Yorkshire industrialist and chairman of William Cook Holdings.