Syed Kamall is a Conservative MEP for London and Chairman of Progressive Conservatives.
When a poll last summer found that the public trusted the Conservative Party more than the Labour Party on the NHS, it hit the headlines. Newspaper columnists devoted pages about how the Conservative Party had finally banished its 'nasty' image, while socialist commentators wondered if there was any ground left on which they could take on the Conservatives.
The theory goes that some issues are owned by the left – health, poverty, education – whilst other issues are owned by the right – defence, law and order, and immigration. That the Conservatives owned the NHS, a Labour issue, was seen as big news and evidence that we were no longer toxic as a brand.
Similar views were offered about the standing ovation that David Cameron received when he discussed poverty in his speech at party conference.
But the media should not have been surprised. The poll and the standing ovations were merely measures of something that many of us have always known: that the Conservative Party is a progressive party. The party's history is littered with examples of socially progressive ideas and policies, from William Wilberforce's campaign to abolish slavery and Disraeli's Great Reform Act of 1867 to Churchill's abolition of national ID cards. Progressive policies are in the Conservative Party's DNA.
For us, progress happens when the state reduces tax, spending and legislative burdens from people, and allows individuals and families greater choice and new opportunities to improve their lives. The most progressive Conservatives tend to be believers in a small state, classically liberal in outlook. The sale of council houses, the spread of share ownership, and reductions in marginal tax rates for the poorest are all examples of socially progressive Conservatism in action.
I had a number of discussions last year, in particular with Shane Frith of Progressive Vision and Adrian Pepper, a campaign strategist and former parliamentary candidate, about the ideas and values which drive the modern Conservative Party. We felt that the time was right to form a group representing the mainstream liberal, modernising strand of thought within the Conservative Party. And so at last year's party conference, the Progressive Conservatives were launched.
David Cameron emphasised in his Manchester speech that the state should be treating adults more like adults and children more like children.
This goes to the very heart of progressive Conservatism: a belief that you cannot have social progress unless you trust individuals to make responsible choices for themselves and unless you teach the young a sense of responsibility.
To return trust to responsible individuals, we can give people more choice over their pensions, investments, and savings. Progressive Conservatives believe in social mobility, in a society where everyone gets the opportunity of a great education and where ambition and effort are rewarded. A society where, if you are determined enough, nothing will hold you back. It is this that attracted me, the son of an immigrant bus driver, to the Conservatives in the first place.
In our party we live that dream. It is no coincidence that Britain's first, and so far only, Jewish Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, and Britain's first, and so far only, female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, were members of the Conservative Party. Make it your New Year's resolution to join us and help elect a Government which will stay true to the classically liberal, socially progressive values of the modern Conservative Party.