By Tim Montgomerie
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Last week I listed seven reasons why the Tories COULD win the next election. Reason seven was what I called the "re-emergence opportunity" and I promised to write more about it today. In this morning's Times (£) I describe it as the Tory Party's butterfly opportunity – our opportunity to emerge from the Coalition caterpillar in some dramatic way towards the end of this parliament.
Governing parties don't normally get the opportunity to mount a fundamental relaunch but coalition government means we have an exceptional opportunity to do so. We should be preparing now for that relaunch.
The opportunity — No PM has increased his percentage of the vote since 1974 but coalition government presents unusual opportunities. A complete relaunch is credible in a way that isn't normally possible for a governing party because Britain has not had a Conservative government and voters know it. The Coalition government clearly hasn't been able to do the things on Europe, the economy, the family, immigration, crime etc that a Conservative government would normally have liked to do.
The process — A comprehensive review of the Tory message, manifesto and machine should be undertaken. The very process will reassure anxious Conservative voters, members and MPs that Cameron has a plan beyond the Coalition. It should keep the party together over what will be an anxious 18 or so month period of continuing Coalition compromises and increased tensions between the two parties. The process should begin now in order to convince the party that Cameron is serious about winning the next election and because the mountain we have to climb at the next election – adding 3% to 5% to our vote share – demands more than small and obvious steps.
The content — The PM has apparently been keeping a little book of things he'd like to do if he was governing on his own but its vital that the offering is more than predictable Right-wing action on eg Europe and immigration. There needs to be a big economic plan so that Conservatives are seen as party that will ensure we can compete and flourish in the world. There needs to be a blue collar/ social mobility agenda to reach the striving class. And, yes, Chris Grayling's "EU veto moments" to reunite the Right. But more than policy, we need a new machine as much as a new manifesto. We need a new approach to internet campaigning, candidate selection, targeting of Lib Dems etc etc. We also need a big message to compete with Labour's cuts narrative.
The authors — Cameron needs to appoint someone who he and George Osborne trusts to undertake the regeneration for them. They are too busy to do it for themselves. I have suggested Gove and still think he'd be ideal. He's also trusted by the parliamentary party and has the intellectual gifts to use the next 18 to 24 moments to do the job properly. The process should also involve the brightest and best backbenchers (as well as one or two current ministers). The process could easily involve a dozen under-used Tory MPs. Doing so would also ease Cameron's reshuffle headache.
The timing — The Relaunch should probably occur with about one year to go before the next election — but might need to happen earlier if the Coalition becomes strained very early. There must be a 50/50 chance that the Lib Dems will leave government from the end of 2013, without bringing the government down, moving to a supply and confidence arrangement, and beginning to reinvent themselves. The Tory butterfly should appear when the coalition caterpillar is near death. Cameron is rightly concerned that voters don't respect PMs who say they can't do things for X or Y reasons. The butterfly launch shouldn't happen too early therefore and risk Cameron looking like an impotent PM – with an agenda that he is unable to implement. Equally it mustn't occur too late, meaning there won't be adequate opportunity to sell it.
The unveiling — Some of the Relaunch Project's work shouldn't wait until 2014. Thoughts on the revitalisation of the machine, for example, should happen sooner rather than later. The policy appeal, however, should be unveiled in a big way. There should be a clear moment when voters understand very clearly how a Conservative majority government would be different. Perhaps at a week-long Convention. Perhaps in interactive online formats. Certainly via intensive leafleting and regional media operations.
Grateful for your thoughts…