Nick is right that not everyone who criticises the Conservative campaign in Oldham is ‘right-wing’ – many of us think it seemed lacklustre. Why it was lacklustre is for another day.
He’s also right that this is not about left or right. It’s about the dilemma between what Conservatism has always been – pragmatic – and what some seem to have allowed it to become – a dogmatic ideology, stuck 20, 30, 50 years in the past.
And again, Nick is right that our party is strongest when we are together -when we have thrashed through an issue together, and come to an agreement together. We are at our best when we are a broad party, weighing up the arguments and coming to the best view we can for the country.
But, after all those ”I agree with Nick”s, I’m afraid our agreement comes to an end. He is absolutely dead wrong that this isn’t actually an argument between competing parts of the party. It’s not really left/right – as I describe above. It is between people who would prefer to be pure ideologues in opposition, than pragmatic and delivering in government. It is between people who understand that what tickles motivated, ideological Party members is not what swing voters want to hear and those who don’t. It is between people who fundamentally dislike the modernisation of the Conservative Party and those who are leading it.
Hopi Sen wrote an excellent piece about the failings of the Tory election campaign – his essential thesis is that the Tories did not connect sufficiently with ‘people like me’ and were not radical enough once they felt securely ahead – whether that was complacency, timidity or lack of coherence is also something I’m sure I’ll come back to.
As we have argued again and again and again, the Conservatives did not win an overall majority because – fundamentally – not enough people believed we had changed sufficiently. As I wrote on ConservativeHome in 2007 (with a longer version here on platform10), it isn’t enough for people to like/trust/respect David Cameron. They need to know he will govern from his centrist, modernising, liberal instincts, not pander to reactionary dogma. Interestingly, David Cameron is running a fair bit ahead of the party generally in approval ratings – on Jan 16 (fieldwork 14-16 Jan), the YouGov poll for the Sun had the party on 37 per cent and David Cameron personally (on Jan 14 – the fieldwork was done 13-14 Jan) on 43 per cent.
There is more – much more – to be done in describing the Conservatives’ offer, both for now and for the 2015 manifesto. We’ve said before that the Coalition presents both risks and opportunities for both parties. I would argue that the opportunities far outweigh the risks – but that requires this coalition government to make a success of its time in office; it requires more modernisation of the Tories; and it requires us to really distil what it is to be a Conservative in the 21st century.