Mark Pritchard is the Member of Parliament for The Wrekin. If you would like to contribute a post for Platform please email your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Similar to a caricature of an American psychotherapy patient, history’s most successful political Party has itself become addicted to self-analysis, introspection, and constant navel gazing. At times, the Conservative Party’s incessant apologising for what it stands for, and what it has done, has bordered on self emasculation. Who would want to vote for a Party that declares itself "nasty", "socially distasteful", and "not trusted"?
After three successive general election defeats, the need for self improvement and internal inquiries is entirely reasonable; but self-analysis should not become an obsession, where constant post-mortems and dissections, which might provide some helpful therapies to recovery, become part of the problem rather than part of the cure. Constant reflections and running commentaries on the reasons for successive general election defeats, many inaccurate, do nothing for Party morale and do nothing to convince the public the Conservative Party is ready to govern again. Neither does a revisionist view of modern Conservative Party history.
Internal analysis however helpful, comforting and needed, should avoid being seen as a panacea and providing the yellow brick road to future success. An obsession with self-image counselling is not an attractive political attribute for a Party that needs more, not less electoral support. The country wants a strong and confident Conservative Party not a fragile and timid imitation. Self confidence should replace embarrassment.
Perhaps lying on the couch, under the gaze of media shrinks and social counsellors, has been a convenient distraction from the alternative of the Party facing up to the enormous task of charting Britain’s future, especially the pressing need to modernise public services? To some biased observers, the Party’s very public therapy, often humiliating, has served as proof positive, that all along, the Conservative Party has been addicted to self – talking about itself, to itself – rather than learning, moving on, and embracing defeat as the universal and cyclical crucible for political character-building.
As the Party conference approaches the good news is, is that there are increasing signs renewed self-confidence within the Party, perhaps a sustained recovery, not only manifest with the arrival of fifty five new MPs, where there is much and obvious talent, but more importantly, by a welcome resurgence of the ‘thinking’ Conservative Party. Whilst it is true, that it is not unusual to see an array of new ideas published in pamphlets, booklets and articles, whenever there is a Conservative leadership contest, on this occasion, the Party’s conversation and policy discourse is very similar. Many of the ideas and speeches by the likely leadership candidates are remarkably connected – both in content and tone. The Conservative Party has found ‘common ground’ again. This has not been the case in the last three leadership contests. This new consensus is a reason for great hope, and for a Party that has been divided for most of its post-Thatcher years, signals the Party’s re-emergence.
The consensus has been found on the ‘common ground’ of One Nation Conservatism, whether this is confronting the "age of anxiety" (David Davis); the mending of a "broken society" (Liam Fox); tackling the "coarsening and vulgarising of society" (David Cameron) or the need to reverse Britain’s "social decay" (David Willetts). This is good news for Party unity and such a ‘coming together’ may just be enough to provide Britain with its most intellectually cohesive Opposition in over a decade.
Some argue that the Conservative Party’s image or brand is so contaminated that no-one is prepared to listen to us, and therefore changing the Party’s image must come above all else – even workable and attractive policies. I disagree. The early presentation of modern One Nation policies will do more for the Party’s image than any iconic advertising, slick campaigning or discarding of neckwear. Bringing forward credible policies on health, education, social care, the environment, animal welfare, and empowering the voluntary and charitable sectors, as well policies on meaningful public sector reform, will do more for changing the Party’s image than any blue-chip West-end advertising agency. The time is now right for the Conservative Party to get off the couch and return to serious frontline politics.