Tory MPs are at Latimer House Conference Centre in Buckinghamshire today and tomorrow for discussion on the party’s progress. It’s a beautiful venue and one night’s accommodation and food is costing each Tory MP £140 (they are paying for it themselves). My three reporters from inside the retreat (all MPs from different parts of the Tory coalition) report a very good turnout from the parliamentary party. Much better, apparently, than any previous of these "bonding retreats".
This morning the MPs were given presentations on polling and focus group research from David Cameron, Michael Ashcroft, Oliver Letwin and George Bridges. The overall message is that the party is changing so that it earns permission to speak to the electorate about Britain’s long-term challenges. The presenters made it clear that Project Cameron was still a ‘work in progress’. The fact that voters are "confused" was repeated again and again. Voters like David Cameron, the negative attitudes to the party are melting and most believe that the party is in a process of change. The public remains to be convinced, however, that the party has genuinely changed and the Tory leadership’s mantra of "deeper, wider and faster" change was commended to the MPs as the appropriate response to these findings.
The one significant area of controversy was tax. John Redwood and
Edward Leigh tackled George Osborne on opinion poll findings that the
public only had a very limited appetite for tax relief. ‘Shouldn’t we
be attempting to mould public opinion and not just follow it?’ was the
challenge to the Shadow Chancellor and noisy murmurings of support were
heard from the assembled parliamentarians. George Osborne responded by
inviting ideas on how to capitalise on public anger at government
For the rest of the day the MPs are attending workshops on
campaigning and will later be addressed by a panel of journalists
including Spectator editor Matthew d’Ancona. Sadly the bloggers were
William Hague will address MPs tomorrow morning.