The next stage of Tory modernisation must address the party's class problem

Sceptical voters on low and middle incomes need much more reassurance that the party is on their side.

The modernisation of the Conservative Party is an unfinished project. As such, despite an impressive swing towards the Conservatives in the last general election, we were not able to form a majority government in 2010.

Gloomy economic circumstances and the nature of coalition have meant the modernisation project has been undermined. It’s time to give it a reboot. This book by Bright Blue offers the blueprint for the second stage of Tory modernisation so the Conservative Party and, more importantly, British society and the economy flourish in the years ahead.

Since its formation in 2010, Bright Blue has built a grassroots pressure group of Conservative activists, councillors and MPs to ensure strong foundations for continuous modernisation. This book includes essays by influential individuals from this modernising alliance – politicians, activists, journalists and policy-makers. Each contributor offers a new vision and radical policies for the Conservative Party to adopt.

This time, we must emphasise the breadth of the modernisation package. It is vital for a safer and fairer future that we retain our modest spending commitment to international aid, support renewable energies, and legalise same-sex marriage. But sceptical voters on low and middle incomes need much more reassurance that we are on their side as they strive for a better future for their families. Historically, Conservatism has been at its best when it is open-minded and big-hearted, providing ladders of opportunity for people from modest backgrounds. So the focus now needs to be on helping these families with the cost of living and accessing high-quality public services.

Where the Conservative Party has gained the most traction recently is with changes to the education and welfare systems, providing positive and effective reforms in these areas which are traditionally associated more with left-wing parties. Let us now be bolder on further reform of public services. This is not about abandoning our principles, but applying and adapting Conservative principles to areas which are really important and relevant to people.

This is an extract from the introduction of the new book from Bright Blue, Tory modernisation 2.0: the future of the Conservative Party, launched today.

Workmen manoeuvre a large model of the Conservative Party symbol on stage at last year's party conference in Birmingham. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ryan Shorthouse is the director of Bright Blue

Guy Stagg leads the Bright Blue Review

Photo:Getty
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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.