PEOPLE’S priorities will be the focus of the Conservative government, chancellor Sajid Javid said, as prime minister Boris Johnson held his first cabinet meeting on Tuesday (17) after winning a majority in last week’s general election.
The Conservatives secured 365 seats – their best result for three decades – following last Thursday’s (12) election, mainly on the promise of getting Britain out of the EU by January 31 and funding for the NHS. The prime minister now commands a majority of 80 in the 650-member House of Commons.
In contrast, the opposition Labour suffered its worst result since 1935, with just 203 MPs elected. A swathe of seats in the north of England, which included traditional Labour heartlands, were won by the Tories, as Johnson urged Britons last Friday (13) to “find closure and to let the healing begin”.
In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye in London on Tuesday (17), Javid said the “historic victory means we can achieve so much more for the country”.
“We are absolutely thrilled because it’s incredibly hard to win every vote. The result shows our message (of getting Brexit done by January 2020) has resonated with people right across the country.
“But also very importantly, we’re going to make sure we are spreading opportunity and prosperity across the country and no community should feel left behind.”
Javid said the NHS, having more police on the streets and improving schools were some of the issues that resonated with voters across Britain.
He attributed the party’s success not only to people who originally cast their ballot for Brexit, but also to those who had voted remain in the 2016 EU referendum. “They are democrats and they want the country to move on, but with a deal,” Javid said.
“And then also, what I sort of refer to, economically rebalancing the country or levelling up the communities across our country, in the northeast for example, and elsewhere, that feel left behind. They feel that somehow some opportunities have passed them by and that’s not right.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing more. And I think it was clear that we were the party that were determined to do that.”
The Conservatives increased their share of the vote to 43.6 per cent, their highest since Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory in 1979, and higher than former Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s in any of his three election wins.
Addressing the nation from the steps of Downing Street last Friday (13), Johnson sought to reach out to ardent Remain supporters, saying: “I want to speak also to those who did not vote for us, or for me, and who wanted and perhaps still want to remain in theEU. I want you to know that we in this one nation Conservative government will never ignore your good and positive feelings of warmth and sympathy towards the nations of Europe.”
Chancellor Javid spoke of staring an “infrastructure revolution” as he outlined the Tory long-term plan of holding on to their new supporters, especially among previous Labour strongholds, once Brexit was accomplished.
“It’s going to require a big investment in skills, especially technical skills. We’re going to look at devolving more power to local communities. We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this, before and during the election. But the difference now is that we have our majority, we have a mandate, we can provide the stability as well.
“People know that for the next five years there’s no need for another election. And then hopefully when the next election does come, we have delivered (on our promises) and people will reward us with another mandate.”
A day after he won the election, the prime minister travelled to the north of England where the Tories gained seats. In a speech to supporters in Sedgefield, once held by former prime minister Blair, Labour’s most successful leader, Johnson said: “I know that people may have been breaking the voting habits of generations to vote for us. I want the people of the northeast to know that we in the Conservative party, and I, will repay your trust.”
He added: “What an incredible thing you have done, you have changed the political landscape, you’ve changed the Conservative party for the better and you’ve changed the future of our country for the better.”
Agreeing with Johnson’s sentiments, Javid said: “We will represent all the people of the United Kingdom. We are one nation, the Conservative party, a one-nation government, which means you leave no one behind and whether they voted for you or not, you’re there to look after the whole country. That’s how we’re going to govern.”
During the general election campaign as well as in the summer, when he ran to be leader of the party, Javid recalled how he experienced racism as the child of immigrants in Britain. His mother frequently had to scrub racist graffiti from the walls of the family shop, the chancellor said. National Front supporters shouted racist slurs at him as he walked to school, he recalled.
Three years after the EU referendum vote, many ethnic communities across the UK have experienced a rise in hate crimes.
Asked how the country can come together after the polarising election of 2016, Javid told Eastern Eye: “If I compare to my own experiences as a child to where the country is today, we have moved forward. Britain is one of the most welcoming, tolerant countries in the Western world when it comes to all communities.
“But we still have work to do as a country. There are still unacceptable incidences of racism. Racism in all its forms is completely unacceptable and we will never tolerate it.
“As a government, we will work towards bringing communities together through integration, through legislation against hate crime. We’ve spent time trying to encourage people to report hate crime because once it’s reported, the police can do something about it. But that work to defeat racism in all its forms will never stop for us.”
In the run-up to the election, the Tories faced accusations of Islamophobia in the party, but the leadership has resisted calls for an inquiry into the complaints.
Late on Tuesday, the Tories announced that Professor Swaran Singh, from Warwick University, will head an independent review into the party’s handling of discrimination and prejudice complaints, including Islamophobia.