Lord Feldman is Chairman of the Conservative Party.
I am delighted to welcome you to the 2015 Conservative Party Conference here in Manchester. This is particularly so, given this is our first in 18 years as a Conservative majority Government.
It seems incredible that the Sunday of Party Conference will mark 150 days exactly since that amazing night back in May.
This Conference will be the first opportunity that the whole Party has had the opportunity to celebrate what we achieved together.
The sight of Conservatives winning up and down the country – from Morley and Outwood to Rochester and Strood – is something I’m sure we will never forget.
To the thousands of candidates, staff and activists who traipsed across the country to secure that victory, I can only say one thing – thank you. It was an extraordinary night, an amazing victory, and everyone here at Conference can be so proud of the part they played.
The theme of this year’s Conference, as you will no doubt notice, is ‘Security, Stability, Opportunity’ and, since the election, that is what we, in Government, have been delivering.
In those 150 days we have introduced a tax lock to rule out increases in the main rates of income tax, VAT or National Insurance over the course of this Parliament. The Chancellor has also announced the introduction of a National Living Wage, a reduction of the cap on the benefits an out of work family can claim, and delivered a Budget forecasting a budget surplus by the end of this Parliament.
The Budget also announced we will meet the two per cent NATO defence spending target for the rest of this decade. We are raising the Inheritance Tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1 million, delivering on our promise to take the family home out of Inheritance Tax, and we are increasing spending on the NHS.
This is all positive news – however, challenges remain.
Next May we face a huge set of elections in Wales and Scotland, and local elections across England. And, of course, in London we’ll also be fighting tooth and nail to win the Mayoral contest.
We must also keep our eyes on the long-term future of our Party. In the election we got 37 per cent of the vote, but we need to think about the 63 per cent who didn’t vote for us.
That is why, after the election, I set up a review to look at how the Party works. We have been consulting through the summer, tens of thousands have taken part in an online survey – and three central issues have arisen.
First, our membership is ageing and the numbers have been flatlining for some time. We have plenty of members in our safe seats and not enough in the seats that we need to win. We need to look at how to address this.
There are many new ways of reaching voters beyond traditional membership. We have collected over a million e-mail addresses, David Cameron has almost 750,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook, and over a million people follow him on Twitter. We must think about how these people can become more engaged.
The second challenge is the infrastructure of the Party itself. Our Associations are the fabric of the Party. However, the fact is that we have strong organisations in safe seats and weak ones in others, hindering our ability to win across the country. We should look at new models of operation that Associations could, voluntarily, work under.
The third challenge is how we continue to change the make-up of our candidates list to make it more reflective of modern Britain. We have made progress. We have more female MPs and MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds than at any time in our Party’s history. But we need to go further and open up the prospect of a career in politics as widely as we can.
As a Party, we exist to fight and win elections. You can only implement your policies, values and principles if you are actually in Government. I want this Conference to look at how we can sustain this success, and extend it to parts of the country where we can do better.
As ever, I am very grateful to ConservativeHome for their support for Conference. I hope you get involved in Conference as much as possible and that you enjoy your time in Manchester with us.