As I wrote in the Conservative Way Forward magazine during the party conference, ‘modernising’ (which is ugly shorthand and not something I would ever talk about in that way directly with voters) is not about being contrary; it’s about explaining what it is to be a Conservative in today’s Britain.
And as I wrote at the end of last year for the Coffeehouse blog, nor is it about setting up artificial dividing lines between traditional and modernising Conservatives because Conservatives are by definition both traditional and modernising.
I have always argued that it is essential to have a broad policy platform. I have always argued that we must earn the right to be listened to by the electorate by understanding their hopes and their fears. It is not incompatible to – like Tim – wholeheartedly support our policy on international aid and our policy on controlled immigration.
The exchange with Tim on Friday evening and the publicising of the 2020 group made me think more deeply about why we are seen to be so far apart. Is it mostly a question of tone and emphasis? Or is it something more fundamental about how we think, and what we think about?
Given all this frantic pamphleting, websiting, and positioning, there are a few things that I think need to be said. Firstly, we are all Conservatives. We have in common a desire for a state which does what it needs to and no more, which costs what it needs to and no more. We start from the premise that it is good for people to work, to engage with their community, and to have ambition. We agree that there must be opportunity but people must also see the fruits of their own efforts (or not, as the case may be). We want power to rest at the most personal level possible – so that outcomes are determined by effort and will and desire rather than a uniform mediocrity.
Secondly, so much of the ‘tension’ between (and we’re going for shorthand here) traditional and modernising Conservatives focuses on tone. As I said above, Conservatives are both; the way that we present ourselves to the electorate is however crucial. We must engage with the things that are important to them as well as to us. Crucially, all governments do, however, have to think about and act upon things that don’t seem to have an immediate impact on people’s daily busy lives – that’s why making sense of, for example, climate change policy or international aid policy is so important. As Conservatives, we largely want to get to the same places; where we do perhaps differ is how we should get there.
And thirdly, it really does come down to what kind of society we want to live in. Something I’ve often half-thought about the modernising Conservatives is that we are perhaps not aggressive enough. But then I realise that I don’t want to always be carping – I want to propose things that make changes for the better. I want to live in a country where we are positive and have confidence, and where we have discussions about what will work rather than just complaining that someone else is wrong.
Winning in 2015 is going to be about so much more than just having a good manifesto. It will need us to have governed competently and fairly, and explained to voters what we’ve done and how we’ve made their lives better. And most importantly, it will need us to make significant inroads into the hearts and minds of the 67 per cent of people who think we don’t like them.