Theresa May’s most senior adviser has admitted that public anger over austerity and Brexit cost the Tory party seats in the general election.
Gavin Barwell, who lost his own seat in London to Jeremy Corbyn’s “surge”, said that Labour had “tapped into” concerns about years of public sector pay freezes and other Government cuts.
Speaking before he was appointed as the PM’s new chief of staff, he told the BBC’s Panorama programme that his party had to do more to listen to voters’ worries about both austerity and the direction of Brexit.
Barwell’s remarks emerged as May finally apologised to fellow Tory MPs for the conduct of her election campaign, which saw her party win 42.4% of the vote but lose its overall House of Commons majority.
The failure of her snap election gamble resulted in a fierce backlash among some MPs and forced her to seek to form a minority government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.
Labour strategists say that their increase in support stemmed from its clear anti-austerity message striking a chord with many ex-UKIP voters, non-voters and others.
Barwell – who replaced May’s ousted chiefs of staff at the weekend - lost his marginal seat of Croydon Central by more than 5,000 votes as Labour saw its vote soar by 10%.
Speaking to Panorama, he told the BBC’s Nick Robinson that his party must learn the lessons of what had happened.
“There’s a conversation I particularly remember with a teacher who had voted for me in 2010 and 2015 and said ‘you know I understand the need for a pay freeze for a few years to deal with the deficit but you’re now asking for that to go on potentially for 10 or 11 years and that’s too much’.
“That is something that Jeremy Corbyn was able to tap into.”
On Brexit, he also said that there was evidence that “angry” Remain voters had abandoned the Conservatives.
“We are very clear in my seat, that the area of the constituency where Labour did best was the area that had voted heavily for remain… So there’s clearly evidence, I think, that people are angry about Brexit still, Jeremy Corbyn somehow managed to get them behind him.”
He added: “We do need to make sure that people that are Conservative-minded that voted Remain in the referendum are happy to continue supporting our party.”
But a Labour source hit back that May’s new chief adviser had finally diagnosed the problem but lacked the solution.
The source told HuffPost UK: “We had the biggest increase in our vote since 1945 because we presented how we will transform Britain for the many not the few.
“Barwell may recognise that, but won’t deliver because his party is funded and controlled by the few who are holding Britain back.”