If those that self-label "modernisers" were interested in my advice on how to be less disliked in Conservative circles, right at the top of my list would be this: Stop claiming the 2010 General Election was a success – "the best performance since 1931". If there is one single thing "modernisers" do that is calculated to enrage other Conservatives it is that. Every time a "moderniser" claims that the 2010 General Election result should not be regarded as a failure, I hear that person say: "I am not a Conservative."
I know why "modernisers" feel they have to claim the 2010 General Election result was some sort of success, of course. After all, the centrepiece of their offering was "the Conservative Party must compromise to achieve electoral success". Well, we compromised, so if we didn't achieve electoral success then the "moderniser" project either failed to deliver proper modernisation (my view and the main ConservativeHome editorial line these past eight years) or it was bankrupt even in its own terms.
But it is wrong and enraging. Wrong – straightforwardly and so obviously wrong that it's an embarrassment to hear it – to claim that getting 36% of the vote was a triumph against the most unpopular Prime Minister of modern times at the depths of the worst recession since the 1920s; wrong to claim that there was any especial technical barrier to a Conservative majority being achieved when we would have won with 40% and no Opposition came into government with a majority with less than 40% after World War II.
But not just wrong – enraging. I'm a Conservative. I believe that Conservatism is true – morally and socially beneficial, and technically and pragmatically effective. And I believe that the British public, weaned in a country with a constitution crafted by Conservatives, where Conservatives have been in government for the vast majority of the 173 years the Conservative Party has existed, conditioned by Conservative values, having repeatedly witnessed the vindication of Conservative projects and critiques of the projects of others, will vote for true, authentic Conservatism when that is what we offer. No Conservative should believe that anything other than victory – a majority in Parliament at at General Election – constitutes a good performance by the Conservative Party, and that anything other than victory against Gordon Brown at the depths of the worst recession since the 1920s constituted anything other than an embarrassing failure.
To claim that the 2010 General Election result was anything other than an failure for the Conservative Party is to declare that, even against an appalling unpopular, failed Prime Minister, leading an administration that had run out of steam and run the British economy into the ground, most British voters would not want authentic and pragmatic Conservatism, offered with integrity and clarity. If you believe that, then in my view you are simply not a Conservative. That doesn't mean you are unwelcome in the Party, or that I am not interested in your opinion on other matters. Pro-nuclear social democrats, pro-business Europhiles, Eurosceptic Communists – I'm sure we have room for many in our broad church. But if you don't believe Conservatism, offered properly, could and should have beaten Gordon Brown, then you aren't a Conservative and I'm not interested in your electoral advice.