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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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.