The next two years are going to be tough for modernisers.
The Queen’s Speech was another clear sign that many of the palpable achievements that stem from detoxification are likely to be hushed up rather than championed on the doorstep.
Chief amongst this is international development and the move towards spending 0.7% of GNI on its ring-fenced budget. There is no prospect of a U-turn on aid, which would confirm that the commitment was only skin deep and that Tories don’t care about development unless it suits them electorally. And in any case, the commitment is real at the top of government and supported widely enough amongst the influential 2010 intake that it won’t change.
But don’t expect it to feature on any pocket-sized list of Conservative achievements come spring 2015.
The same can be said for the less bread and butter proposals of the pre-government years. There is no chance of the words ‘big’ and ‘society’ featuring together on a billboard near you anytime soon, for instance.
Of course there is nothing wrong with focusing on the bread and butter issues. Indeed, that is where the election is going to be won and lost. And, despite what anyone says, no-one is really going to vote Conservative in 2015 because of the introduction of same-sex marriage.
But the point of proper, deep-rooted modernisation is that the effects cannot be measured by the performance at the next election. One of the limitations of the detoxification process was an underestimation of just how long it would take to complete. A recession or two in the middle of that process has understandable caused it to stumble in the face of a reversion to good old fashioned fiscal discipline, but those who say it has failed or became irrelevant after 2008 are missing the point. It was never going to be complete by the end of the last parliament and it was never likely to bear electoral fruit straight away.
Modernisers have to accept that the cuddly stuff will inevitably take a back seat as we approach a ‘cost of living election’ where the fuel prices of today will be of greater importance than the energy solutions of tomorrow. But we shouldn’t feel the need to muzzle ourselves when the usual stereotypes are wheeled out about uncaring Tories.
Similarly, liberal conservatives should be smarter and slightly more insistent than they have been about ensuring UKIP don’t get a free pass to effectively dictate the party’s policy positions on immigration, Europe and crime.
Naturally there are core voters and potential swing voters who either couldn’t care less about the modernising agenda or who will be actively turned away by it. But those groups who wavered and ultimately decided not to trust the Conservatives last time around will be more susceptible to the gradual softening that comes from the achievements we can and should be trumpeting.
There is no prospect of these achievements jostling their way to the front of the queue of policy boasts in two years time. But those who believe their medium and long-term effect is still worth something should not be afraid to make their voices heard.
Even if on the basis of this week’s Queen’s speech it won’t get them very far in the short term.