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

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.