David Willetts gave a speech yesterday in which he summoned the example of Benjamin Disraeli to defend David Cameron’s modernisation of the Conservative Party:
"The only reason we have a Conservative Party today is because previous generations of modernisers led the Party to change as society around them changed.
Sometimes we made heavy weather of all this – after our landslide defeat in 1906 for example. At other times we have shown extraordinary capacity for intellectual renewal very quickly – after the 1945 defeat.
In the mid-nineteenth century we languished in opposition for longer than any other time in our Party’s great history, but finally emerged to be a natural governing Party. It was a long hard slog, both for Disraeli and for the Party as a whole. Randolph Churchill summarised Disraeli’s career very crisply: “Failure, failure, failure, partial success, renewed failure. Ultimate and complete victory.”
It is inescapably part of being a Conservative to be endlessly debating what you have to hold on to and what you can shed as the world around you changes. Or, as Disraeli put it, his task was to clarify “the real character and nature of Toryism” and to shed those qualities which had “become in time obsolete, inconvenient, and by the dextrous misrepresentations of our opponents, even odious.”
Read the full speech: Download david_willetts_speech.pdf.