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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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