ROBERT HALFON is not your stereotypical Conservative MP. Representing Harlow in Essex, a town mainly known for its roundabouts (I used to live there so I’m allowed to be rude), he prides himself on being more in touch with ‘the man on the street’ than most.
It was Halfon (pictured below) who persuaded George Osborne to freeze fuel duty for the time he was in office. But now he is worried.
After Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech, he tweeted: ‘Serious stuff from Labour this week that may resonate with millions of workers — Conservatives need a thoughtful response to this at conference with a true vision and passion for a workers & social justice agenda.
‘Predictable responses just won’t cut it with public.’ He added: ‘As a party we must radically change or we will never win a proper election majority again.’
Harlow was held by Labour until Halfon won in 2010 and is a classic bellwether seat. His warning is one the leadership should heed.
Labour has been embroiled in rows about anti-Semitism, mandatory reselections and whether some MPs may quit and form a new centrist party. But these issues cut through less than you might expect. According to a Populus survey of which stories members of the public pay attention to, only five per cent mentioned anti-Semitism.
At its conference, Labour set out its most interventionist set of policies yet, including forcing large companies to hand over ten per cent of shares to a workers’ fund, reserving a third of board seats for employees, and free childcare for three and four year olds.
Many will worry about the impact on the economy, but at least Labour is coming up with a vision for the country.
Theresa May’s domestic agenda has hit an impasse just like her negotiations with the EU. The parliamentary arithmetic has also forced her to ditch or pause any more controversial ideas.
It is understandable, with six months to go, Brexit is all-consuming. But people voted to leave the EU because they wanted change. If the Tories are to have a chance at the next election, they must find their own radical domestic vision.
Robert Halfon is the canary in the mine.
■ I WENT to Labour conference believing a new centrist party was unlikely, but left convinced some MPs will quit the party. From the conversations I’ve had, it feels inevitable some of the centrist, anti-Corbyn MPs — especially those facing deselection — will peel away in the coming months. The only thing stopping them is nobody wants to give up a vote on Brexit.
Now for Brexit jostling in Birmingham
AS THE conference juggernaut powers on, the Conservatives head to Birmingham this weekend.
After EU leaders shot down Theresa May’s Chequers plan for Brexit she, bizarrely, may have an easier time from MPs. Why bother kicking Chequers when it’s essentially dead? But a punch-up will simply be replaced by heavy jostling between Brexiteers, those wanting a second referendum or with their eye on the leadership.
I’ll be navigating the minefield with David Davis, Ruth Davidson, Brandon Lewis and Andy Street for Sophy Ridge on Sunday, on Sky News at 9am.
Question of Phil earns a chill retort
THERESA MAY was interviewed by Conservative party deputy chairman James Cleverley for House magazine this week, in a rather cosy set up.
The mutual love-in was disrupted, however, after the Braintree MP kept pressing on the role of the prime minister’s husband in her decision-making process.
Mrs May said icily: ‘I just wondered when you asked me about Philip’s role, whether if I was a male prime minister, you would have asked the same question about their wife?’
It turns out that even if you pick the interviewers, you can’t pick the questions…