Adam Afriyie is the Member of Parliament for Windsor and Co-Chair of the 2020 Conservatives Economic Commission. He was Shadow Minister for Science and Innovation from 2007 to 2010.
Sometimes I get the feeling that the so-called ‘modern’ Conservative Party is actually reading from a dated script. It
appears to have spent too much time focusing on tangential issues that are not
the top priorities for the majority of people. Whether we like it or not, many people
can’t understand why so much focus has been given to issues such as onshore wind
farms, property extensions, HS2, emissions targets and increasing foreign aid. Clearly
these are important and vital issues and policies, but right now I think the
priorities for most people today are jobs, immigration and the cost of living.
It is time to shift gear
Back in the 1990s, the
Conservative family became fragmented because it wasn’t perceived to be inclusive
and broad enough. But today, it’s fragmented because the ‘modern’ party has not
realised that the world has moved on, and is looking for greater certainty and
clarity. Conservatives want to focus resolutely on the big issues surrounding
national self-confidence, the economy, Europe and controlling immigration. To
some degree, there’s a feeling out there that the party is living in the past
and has lost touch with the today’s Britain.
Over the last ten years we have had a
chip on our shoulder about our image problem. In the 1990s, rightly or
wrongly, the party was seen as racist, elitist and classist. Party members thought
that if we were going to win another election, we needed to reclaim traditional
conservative values for all people regardless of their wealth, colour or creed.
That’s why I became an activist in the
early 1990s, joined the fresh-faced Policy Exchange think tank and then supported
David Cameron in the 2005 leadership election. I was a strong believer in the
early ‘modernisation’ process. I was proud that Conservatives were tackling the
issues that mattered to the people at the time. Just as we always had, we
were responding to new problems quickly and effectively. And I understood the
equivocal, reflective, discursive and fluid nature of policy making – there was
time for that back then. But, today, all of a sudden, it sounds like singing from
an old score sheet; stuck in an indecisive, uncertain rut; still trying to
modernise for a Britain that no longer exists.
Jobs, immigration, the cost of living
and economic growth: these are the things that come out on top in public polls
– not the old-fashioned idea of ‘modernisation’. If we think our party has lost its way, then
what is it that we should be doing in Government and with Parliamentary time? Why
haven’t we been talking about immigration from the EU? Why aren’t we talking more
about the necessary supply-side reforms – like improving employment legislation,
reducing tax and red tape, rather than appearing to be arch Keynesians by pump-priming
the housing market and appearing to forward-spend billions on distant infrastructure
projects of questionable worth? And why aren’t we cheering and celebrating wealth
creators, investors and competition? Why does the Party feel it’s uncouth to talk
about trade and exports and making big profits in competitive markets? We can’t keep our eyes and ears shut
to the public forever, and I’m glad there are early signs of change.
There are big questions about
political and policy renewal to be addressed and I’ll be writing more about it in
Let’s welcome the new generation on board
But, vitally, we’re missing a prime
opportunity to realise a great future for this country. This generation is one
of the most Conservative yet. Now is the perfect time for the re-emergence of
solid traditional conservative values such as the small state, lower taxes and
unleashing the power of enterprise.
Just last month a YouGov poll showed that
younger people were more likely to vote Conservative than to vote Labour – by a
huge 4 per cent point gap. Of course, we can’t take a single poll in isolation, but
this general trend is exciting. As Ben
Page of Ipsos MORI, the polling company, said: "Each generation is less
collectivist than the last.” As a party we must be less collectivist too, and
chime in with this sentiment, which is wholly conservative.
It is striking that 18-24 year olds are the only age
group to think positively of deficit reduction, and only one in five of under-35s
believe we should increase welfare payments, even if it results in higher taxes –
the lowest of all age groups. The pollsters believe that the Conservative Party's
renewed emphasis on personal responsibility and cracking down on the
something-for-nothing culture has attracted to younger voters. This is a great
More than ever, we now have the
chance to shift the discussion onto our traditional political territory and restate
it for the Britain of today. We must seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity
with both hands. That way, we can deliver a bright Conservative future that is
in tune with British people.
Conservative Renewal Conference
That is why I am delighted to once
again be opening the Conservative Renewal Conference in Windsor this year. It
is a chance to discuss the future of conservative ideas and policy, the
challenges we face and the opportunities to re-embrace and renew traditional
conservative values. We want everyone – young and old – to come down and debate
these issues and discuss our traditional values and philosophy. I hope to see
many fresh faces.
The line-up is superb. We have
brought together MPs, columnists, academics, philosophers and think-tankers. It
is a great opportunity to spend the day discussing the big issues in relaxed
company. Want a ticket? You can buy a ticket with a quick click of the button
The conference is not about personalities – it’s about ideas.
It’s time to start thinking hard
again; it’s time to express our core principles in the modern world; it’s time
to understand what has gone well and what has not gone so well. That way we can
reunite the Conservative family in the party; return the country to the top of
the economic competitiveness leagues, and deliver a country and a party that is
at ease with itself once again.
I do hope you will be able to join me
at this very special event on 14th September.