How British Conservatives should respond to the Trump effect

Maxim Parr-Reid is a first year undergraduate reading History & Politics at Trinity College.

The brashest, most controversial candidate in US Presidential Election history. Donald Trump has endured a series of scandals ever since declaring his intention to run for President in 2015. Before that, Donald Trump had been a reality TV star and a highly successful businessman. Even before launching his bid for the White House, Trump had weathered several media storms.

On November 9th 2016, Trump, a massively divisive nominee for President took the White House, eventually forcing the concession of heir apparent Hillary Clinton and is set to replace Barack Obama in January 2017. Trump defied opinion polls and pundits and shook the political world. Many had condemned the campaign, and Hillary Clinton had dismissed Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables”; but in November an unlikely coalition of voters swung against the Democratic Party which had occupied the White House for eight years.

With a campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again” and promises to combat Washington corruption – “drain the swamp” – and to put an end to the "revolving door" of ex-Congressmen becoming lobbyists. Trump’s campaign had a strong, insurgency-style message. Trump also aimed to capture white, working-class Democratic voters to win the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. A large section of the working-class vote, hitherto loyal to the Democrats – voting for Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Barack Obama – swung heavily to the Republicans under Trump.

Trump had a series of remarkable successes, taking large chunks of the Republican primary vote, in 2016, and most of the delegates to the Convention in the summer. Most of his opponents were forced to drop out of the race. But in the nationwide opinion polling in advance of the election, Hillary Clinton looked like she may even may gains in states like Georgia and North Carolina. She also polled strongly in Texas, Arizona and other stolidly red states. Yet the Clinton campaign seems to have underestimated their opponent; after an incredible journey Trump won a decisive victory in the Electoral College.

Together with Brexit, Trump is now reshaping the political landscape and rewriting the rules. The Trump victory resembles the Vote Leave campaign in many respects, but the implications of the victory actually surpass Brexit. US and UK voters are helping to fundamentally alter the political map and shatter long-held assumptions about politics.

This change attracted little attention until the shock victories of Vote Leave and Donald Trump this year. The Conservative Party must review its attitude to its own electorate, remembering that David Cameron and most of the Cabinet had advocate a result quite different to that which actually occurred. Cooperation with Trump is essential. Trump used many of the tactics of the Leave campaign and other political insurgencies against Hillary Clinton. It transpired that the successful campaign for Brexit was knowingly recycled when Trump targeted the disaffected and disenfranchised. The Conservatives must review their attitude to this wedge of voters in electoral campaigns and referenda.

The next General Election may be called sooner than you think: two MPs resigned in the last month. The issue is ‘forgotten’ voters: these people want a government that gives them a voice, and insist that Article 50 be enacted, that effectively means leaving the European Union as soon as possible. The government wants to withdraw from the EU and hand sovereignty back to the British people before 2020. Post-Brexit politics involves a volatile combination of local, regional and international trade agreements and Leave voters having a major and critical role in shaping the country’s future.