Theresa May has admitted the Conservative Party was not prepared when she called a snap general election.
The Prime Minister, who saw her Commons majority wiped out after calling a snap poll against the backdrop of a strong lead, surprisingly said the six weeks between calling the vote and polling day meant “you’ve not been able to prepare people for it”.
Speaking ahead of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, May – who has been widely criticised for her performance on the campaign trail – said the Tory campaign had been too centralised and needed to look again at the way it used social media.
In an interview with the former Tory leader Lord Howard for Parliament’s The House magazine, May conceded: “There weren’t the links with the centre that there should have been. That’s one of the issues we need to look at.
“With a snap election, of course you have to do a little more from the centre, in relation to the selection of candidates. But I think it’s in relation to ensuring that the campaign at the centre is reflecting what’s happening at the grassroots.”
Asked whether the snap election was a “significant factor” in the result, she replied:
“I think it was, because by definition in a snap election you’ve not been able to prepare people for it. So out there people have to work quite quickly to put their local campaigns together, and you do get slightly more of a central approach.
“We need to look at that very carefully, and to make sure we get the connection between what people want to do locally and the central campaign.”
May acknowledged her central message of a “country that works for everyone” had not got through to voters.
“When I came into Downing Street I stood on the steps and I set out my platform for the future. That didn’t come through in the election – the sense of a country that works for everyone, and the way that I wanted to take that forward. I think that was one issue,” she said.
She said the Conservative campaign should have been less centralised with greater scope for activists on the ground to make their own decisions.
“You obviously need to have a central focus in the campaign. But I think that an awful lot of people out there in the party worked hard on the ground, and there is a feeling that there wasn’t the ability to do what they wanted to do,” she said.
The PM said they also needed to make again the argument for free markets among a generation of younger voters after failing to win a majority among any age group under 40.
She said the Conservatives had to remake the arguments for sound management of the economy among younger voters.
“Sadly we do see that that message has been lost. I think in a sense we thought those arguments were done and dusted. That everybody understood it. That we didn’t have to go back to them,” she said.
“We’ve got to make that case all over again, because there is a generation who have grown up in a different environment and perhaps haven’t seen the problems that can occur when you don’t believe in free markets and sound management of the economy.”
Pressed by Lord Howard that the Tories had been “out-campaigned” on social media, May said the party needed to look seriously at the way it had been used by rivals to generate “negative atmospheres” around particular politicians or political interviewers.
“I think that, perhaps as a party or as a Government, we’ve seen social media as a means of trying to disseminate a message. But others are using it in a much more varied way,” she said.
“They’re using it to create an atmosphere around what is being said, around interviews, around events, which leads people to question them.
“It creates an atmosphere of disbelief in people’s minds, rather than an atmosphere where people are actively thinking about the arguments that are being put forward.”