By Tim Montgomerie
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On Saturday ConservativeHome held our Victory 2015 Conference – on how we might win the next General Election. Lord Ashcroft has already written his review of the day and here are a few headline conclusions from me:
There is an appetite for serious politics. Saturday was quite heavy. There were some detailed polling presentations, a serious philosophical speech from the Home Secretary and some very thoughtful workshops on how the party might reach out to key demographic groups. And from all of the feedback I received people really enjoyed it. Again and again people said that this was what a political conference should be like. There'll be more events like it from ConHome in the future. My biggest regret was that we booked such a small venue. We'd sold out after about three weeks and had barely promoted the event. We could quite easily have sold two or three times as many tickets. Perhaps, one day in the not too distant future, ConHome will have one thousand people at such conferences.
The next election is going to be very hard to win. Even before the Conference started only 7% of Tory members expected Cameron to win a majority. That was before Lord Ashcroft had published his survey of 19,000 voters in marginal seats. The good news from his mega poll was that the Tories are doing better in the marginals than in the country as a whole. The survey also found that, despite Eastleigh, the Tories could hope to win 17 seats from the Liberal Democrats. Overall, however, unless the outlook improves (and Trevor Kavanagh is sure that it must) Ed Miliband will become Prime Minister with a large Labour majority.
Conservatism should be reframed as a creed for the underdog against the system. This was both Stephan Shakespeare's and Theresa May's conclusion. After dismissing the whole nonsense of people living on some mythical centre ground Stephan – ConHome columnist and CEO of YouGov – urged the party to think of itself as (1) for the people AGAINST the politicians, (2) for small businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators AGAINST corporate capitalism and (3) for customers and citizens against big businesses and bureaucrats. This was certainly a theme of Theresa May's speech. "By standing up for the people, by taking on anybody who gets in the way, by confronting vested interests wherever we find them, we will change the country for the better," she concluded. And she didn't just mean unaccountable European judges and reactionary trade union leaders – although she did. She also targeted businesses that "abuse their market position to keep prices high"; "companies at the less scrupulous end of the credit industry [that] prey on the poorest and most vulnerable families"; and "banks and other big companies [that] seem to act in the selfish interests of their executives, but not in the interests of their customers, their shareholders or the public". Against all these abuses, "we should use the power of the state to stop them," said Mrs May. Amen. Please see our recent series on Conservatism For The Little Guy.
Theresa May has arrived. I'm not sure the Home Secretary will ever become party leader or PM for the reasons set out in my article for today's Times (£) but there's no doubt that she's now a massive force inside the Conservative Party. Undertaking police reforms that Ken Clarke and Michael Howard shied away from she's not only a competent and brave minister - bringing immigration under control and often battling with Tory as well as Lib Dem ministers to ensure that it does – but she also is an advocate for a more one nation conservatism than we've seen from either Cameron or Osborne. "May-ism" emphasises the David-versus-Goliath battles mentioned in the last bullet point. It also emphasises a strategic role for the state in the economy alongside a more populist Tory approach to questions of crime, civil liberties, immigration and Europe. Her speech was very impressive and ConHome was honoured to have hosted it.