This site was founded by Tim Montgomerie, in the dark days of 2005, just after the third consecutive General Election defeat for the Conservatives. My first contribution was the following year with the seminal piece: “a hundred questions councillors should ask council officers”.
Conservative Home was the zeitgeist in two ways. First of all, political blogging was rather new. A few months earlier, I has asked Michael Howard, then the Conservative leader, about the Conservative including a blog on its website. “What is a blog?” was his reply.
After my garbled explanation he said: “Bob will blog. Bob, bob, bob will go blog, blog, blogging along.” This was an upbeat reference to our mutual friend Bob Seely, Howard’s adviser at the time – who is hoping to be returned today as the Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight.
But, of course, the site had to be positioned as, and also had to be, independent. Our opponents took a while to catch up. Lib Dem Voice first appeared in 2006. Labour List only launched (under Derek Draper’s guidance) in 2009.
Secondly, this site caught the sense in the Conservative Party that unquestioning loyalty was no longer enough. Deference was dead. Proper debate and challenge was needed. Cliques and secrecy should give way to openness. An early victory for the site was to retain the right of Party members to vote for new leaders. Howard had wanted to revert to MPs making the decision. This site saw him off.
It made all the difference. Had the election been left to the MPs, David Davis would have become the new leader. But putting it out to the wider membership meant David Cameron triumphed. The site gave plenty of space for both sides to state their case. Paul Goodman was Davis’s champion. Michael Gove batted for Cameron. But the crucial point was making the whole membership the franchise. It was ConservativeHome wot won it. (It is odd that Cameron’s autobiography did not acknowledge this. A simple “thank you” would have sufficed.)
At any rate, when it came to the general election campaign of 2010, and subsequent campaigns, we rallied round. (“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven… A time to rend, and a time to sow; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”) As a relatively new recruit to this site, I recall writing a lot of pieces denouncing the Lib Dems. Cleggmania was a great menace at the time. I later felt that the Coalition Government worked out quite well.
With fighting spirit, we went on to 2015, the “sweetest victory”. Our great challenge was to avoid undermining the team. But even after our victory we were quick to remind the Party that we are mortal. See this long but important piece by Mark Wallace. It noted what went well – but also that Get Out The Vote was undermined by the CCHQ computer system crashing.
In 2017, the decision the country faced was much more stark. This was, of course, because the Labour party had turned away from social democracy and had embraced a Marxist leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The result was alarmingly close. After the election we ran pieces demanding that the Conservatives self-criticise; John Strafford’s piece was an outspoken example. The editor wrote said: “42 per cent and no majority. We’ve said it before. We say it again. A key to victory is higher home ownership.”
So here we are already on our site’s and my fourth general election. While we haven’t had any emphatic defeats so far, there has only been one clear victory. I hope and expect that today will provide a second. Even if this happens, there will doubtless be plenty to say in due course about how we could have done better. We have many heroic candidates who were only selected very recently; they could and should have been selected earlier. But they have been showing fantastic zeal since being in place.
In 2008, Boris Johnson was making a gutsy challenge to be Mayor of London. I wrote for this site:
“Based on the canvassing I’ve done I’m optimistic. Sure, there is a bit of two way traffic. Some Tories are doubtful about voting for him. However, there are rather more people who say they would not normally vote Tory but are inclined to give him their vote.”
Over a decade on that feels about for this election. We shall know in a few hours. Good luck!