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Eric Ollerenshaw OBE was Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Fleetwood from 2010 to 2015.

As the dust settles on such a disappointing and unexpected election result, at least after this election the Party seems to be prepared to examine what went wrong.

This is a good first step and contrasts with 2015, when nobody seemed to want to ask why Lancaster and Fleetwood had been lost. To this day nobody from CCHQ has ever asked me or my Association about it.

Assessing different parts of the campaign is important, but we also need to look again at the bigger picture.

We have spent the past couple of months facing the almost millenarian hordes of Momentum, who are driven by an ideology I thought we had defeated in the 80s and 90s. So what should we be doing to challenge this resurrected socialism?

In short, we need to actively set about re-defining and explaining the principles that underpin our own beliefs as Conservatives, and explaining the positive case for Conservatism are in modern times.

Sometimes it seems that with the collapse of communism in Europe, and the rise of New Labour at the end of the 20th Century, many of us thought the battle of principles was over. Now elections were just a matter of parties arguing about who would be more competent in running Government.

We lost those arguments of competence when fighting Blair, but won when fighting against Brown and Miliband, which seemed to confirm to us that it was competence – in particular on running the economy – that would carry us to victory in future.

(Although perhaps in this election we felt our competence was so obvious we need not comment on it!)

But whilst we won most seats in the end on June 8th the election unleashed – or perhaps it might be truer to say, Labour have resurrected – ideological fervour, enabling them to turn out previous non-voters and appeal to both the young and to many middle class voters.

These were people energised by Jeremy Corbyn’s middle-class socialism (which looks just like the old socialism to me), which promised them that an easy ride for everyone is just an election victory away.

If we are to defeat this left-wing resurgence then I believe that CCHQ must invest in some overdue longer-term work, resisting the constant and real pressure of the next round of elections which has prevented this to date. Francis Maude, in my view, was the last Chairman to attempt to take a long-term approach on a number of levels.

From tackling our decline in metropolitan areas to addressing our persistent image problem, we’re still not tackling such issues properly although Stuart Andrew MP, in his role as Vice Chairman of the Party in charge of cities, was trying to make progress on the metropolitan question before getting cut short by the election.

I also think it is worth re-working something like the Social Action projects. Whatever one thinks of them, I believe they were part of a genuine attempt by David Cameron “to detoxify the Tory brand” and that this help on both the national and local level in the run up to 2010.

However it never became a real means to demonstrate and argue the principles that make us Conservatives, as it was meant to in the days of the ‘Big Society’. The problem was it was a term that never had a simple and understandable definition either to members involved in it or the public observing itm and looked too easily like the actions of “Tory do-gooders”.

After 2010 it also seems to be yet another example of the Party bring unable to sustain anything beyond the next election.

However, at a more fundamental level we need work on a scale that motivated the late Sir Keith Joseph, who in the 1970s toured universities and the regions, often in the face of riots and hostile demonstrations, to deliver the practical and moral case for economic liberalism.

He didn’t perhaps always get it right, but he understood that the battle of ideas had to be won in order to win public acceptance of the difficult decisions the next Conservative government would need to make.

In the face of the Corbynista revival we need a crack team of MPs and others prepared to make the positive case for Conservatism in the modern era, explaining why socialism’s promises are hollow and our own market-led approach delivers better outcomes for voters and their families.

We need therefore to be challenging this new leftist phenomena in its heartlands: the universities. Conservative Future faced resistance from student unions even before CCHQ suspended it, since when we have had no organised youth presence at all. If we want the next generation to give us a fair hearing then we must get engaged in the ideological battle on campus, especially with ever-more young people going to university.

The Party should also join battle in communities and on social media, and provide our members and activists with the training and support needed to join the fray as effective advocates of the Conservative cause.

All this needs a plan, careful oversight direction and, yes, resourcing beyond the next round of elections. In short, it needs a serious change in focus at CCHQ. Is that too much to ask, after the shortcomings exposed by the general election?

122 comments for: Eric Ollerenshaw: The Conservatives must re-engage in the battle of ideas

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