Like our media colleagues, we want to write about the coming EU referendum and Conservative leadership contest, and will be doing so. Later today, ConservativeHome will publish its first-ever poll of Party members on the referendum which takes the Government’s renegotiation into account. Tomorrow, we will report our latest future leader survey.
But while it is vital to report, analyse and campaign over the EU – this site is for Brexit – and essential to do the same, in due course, when it comes to the next Tory leader (today’s Sunday Times (£) names 16 potential candidates), our gaze and ambitions should range wider and deeper – as, more importantly, should that of every single Party supporter and member.
There is a danger that the Conservative Conference that opens this afternoon in Manchester will either be a collective gloat over May’s election victory, or become a passing-of-the-torch from the Prime Minister, whose speech may struggle to shake off a valedictory air, to the Chancellor – whose own address, as Peter Hoskin wrote on this site on Friday, looks to be the conference event of the week.
But neither a celebration of the events of last spring nor even the fizziest speech from George Osborne will propel the Party from the 37 per cent it gained on May to the 43-per-cent-or-so David Cameron has been known to mull in private. This is roughly where every Conservative should want it to be. And we should aim to do more in getting there than feed off Labour’s disarray.
If Jeremy Corbyn is still in place in 2020, it is easy to see how – assuming that “Remain” wins the referendum, which of course may not be the case – the new Tory leader and Lynton Crosby run the same campaign that they did last May, squared. Focus on the threat from Labour, throw the SNP in for good measure…and watch the Conservative vote share inch up.
This would be understandable, but woefully insufficient – at least if the Tory leadership of the future wants to see the Party, and the conservative cause more widely, bust the stigma of being “the Party of the Rich” that holds both back. To do means balancing a moderate voice with radical measures to meet Britain’s needs.
We live in a country in which too many young people must postpone buying a home until their mid-30s, if they can ever afford to buy at all; in which an entrenched lack of opportunity – driven by broken families and bad schools – locks people out of work, and in which it has become almost impossible to exercise the prudence without which sustainable growth becomes impossible: namely, to save.
Homes, jobs and savings, then: the triple theme of the ConservativeHome Manifesto. Cameron, George Osborne and those 16 other putative leadership candidates must rise above the clamour of the present to think and act long-term, not least when it comes to reworking the foundations of our sagging constitution and facing up to today’s alienation from party politics.
One way of assessing whether or not the Party is equipped to rise to the challenges is by measuring the range of its Parliamentary candidates. Our assessment of the 2015 intake is that it is high-quality – I would say higher than my own of 2001 – but, though ground-breaking in some ways (more women), not so in others: there are too few Tory MPs with real experience of the public sector.
If the Party is to break through to the younger, more urban, more ethnic minority voters that it needs to get that vote share up, it needs more candidates who have that experience, or work for lower incomes than the traditional pool from which Conservative candidates are drawn, or both. Today’s Sunday Telegraph reports that Lord Feldman will today announce a new bursary scheme.
It was Tim Montgomerie, this site’s founder, who first floated such a plan. Henry Hill and I raised it again in Cameron’s Children, our exhaustive study of the new Conservative intake, copies of which will be available at conference from the ConHome marquee – a sign of this site’s continuty of campaigning and intent. More to the point, this is the right move from Feldman: good on him and his team.
This conference coincides with the publication of the second volume of Charles Moore’s official biography of Margaret Thatcher, and it can be expected to be as fine as the first. Although she went from strength to electoral strength in terms of her Parliamentary majority, she won her largest percentage first time round – 44 per cent, in 1979.
That proportion of the vote is the figure that the Prime Minister mulls – and as aspirational an electoral target as realism can bear. But if the figure should be the same, the means will diverge, at least up to a point. The challenges of 2020 will be different to those of 40 years before. The approach of the future is the social justice conservatism set out by Stephen Crabb and Ruth Davidson on this site yesterday.
At this conference, ConservativeHome’s programme won’t neglect the EU: I will be interviewing Steve Baker, the co-Chairman of Conservatives for Britain, on Tuesday. We will also be having a good look at how to respond to Corbyn, with Liam Fox, Ian Birrell, George Eaton and Chris White. But our event on families policy tomorrow with Priti Patel perhaps captures the challenges of the future best of all.