The Tories that Cameron and Osborne need to listen to

Conservative group Renewal's pledge card calls for an increase in the minimum wage, the building of one million homes, free party membership for trade unionists and action against "rip-off companies".

Free party membership for trade unionists, the building of one million homes over the next parliament, an increase in the minimum wage, a "cost-of-living test" for every policy, a cut in fuel duty and a cabinet minister to "take action for the consumer against rip-off companies". The latest set of demands from Len McCluskey? No. Rather, the six proposals that will appear on a New Labour-style pledge card next week from Renewal, the Conservative group aimed at broadening the party's appeal among working class, northern and ethnic minority voters (the launch of which I covered earlier this year).

The group, led by NS contributor David Skelton, has gone further than any other in recognising that the Tories need to dramatically refashion their agenda if they are to ever win a majority again (a feat that has eluded them for 21 years). The party currently has no councillors in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield, and just one seat in Scotland. In 2010, it won the support of just 16% of ethnic minority voters.

If it is to improve on this performance next time round, it needs to depart from its traditional script of Europe, immigration and welfare. Voters might share the Tories' views on these issues but they do not share their obsession with them. To win new supporters, the party needs to adopt a relentless focus on living standards. As Skelton notes, "Traditional Labour voters are disenchanted, lack a natural political home, but do not believe the Conservatives are interested in them. We have got to change that perception. We have got to show that we stand up for ordinary working people, and that we are not the party just of the rich or big business. The six issues on the pledge card are designed to show we are on the side of hard-pressed working people."

So, what are the chances of succcess and how worried should Labour be? Renewal enjoys significant support from senior ministers, including Patrick McLoughlin, who wrote the foreword to the collection, and Eric Pickles, who addressed its launch, as well as MPs such as Robert Halfon and Guy Opperman. Its work is also being studied by George Osborne, who appointed Skelton’s former Policy Exchange colleague Neil O’Brien as his special adviser and whose former chief of staff, Matt Hancock, contributed a chapter on "conservatism for the low-paid" to Renewal's recent pamphlet Access All Areas. Several sources have told me that the party is likely to announce a significant increase in the minimum wage at its conference in Manchester next week in a bid to win over low-income groups.

But less than two years away from the election, time is short for the Tories to detoxify their brand. The decision to cut the top rate of tax, to privatise large parts of the NHS and to demonise trade unionists have all added to the damage. But if Renewal's agenda becomes the party's, the long work of winning a hearing among voters who have shunned it for decades will begin. 

David Cameron speaks during an official reception at Downing Street on September 16, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who should be happiest about the polls: Jeremy Corbyn, or Theresa May?

Labour believe their small lead will only grow – but some Tories think that the only way for the opposition is down. 

Who should be happiest about the state of the polls? The intriguing feature of the polls at the moment is that all Britain’s first, second and third parties can all claim to be happy about them.

 Labour, understandably, point to their small lead over the Conservatives, the transformation in Jeremy Corbyn’s approval ratings, and the continuing popularity of the party’s platform.

And while no Labour politician is looking forward to a recession, most frontbenchers expect one, with the economic indicators all looking gloomy. That’s why the party’s narrow advantage in the polls, in of itself enough to guarantee a minority Labour government if it were borne out at an election, is seen as such good news by the leadership. They expect circumstances to extend, rather than contract the party’s small lead.

Liberal Democrat MPs are cheered, meanwhile, that the party is not suffering in the polls as it usually does outside of election season, when it tends to shrink from public view. Despite the fact their departing leader, Tim Farron, has largely only been in the news when his views about faith are up for discussion, the party actually appears to have made up a few points in the polls since the election, which is further cause for celebration.

It’s harder to find Conservative MPs in a cheery mood at the moment. Most are going into the summer recess in a state of shock, and are demoralised and deeply worried that Corbyn is on the verge of Downing Street.

But some more optimistic MPs can also, fairly, argue that the polls aren’t as bad as they ought to be. The economy is slowing, inflation is hitting take-home pay, their leader is hugely unpopular, and the party is publicly divided. Yet they are only very narrowly behind – suggesting that if they can get wages rising, ride out the downturn, resolve Brexit and unify around a new, more popular leader, they could be back on the front foot very quickly.

Their difficulty, of course, as I outline in my column this week, is that Conservative MPs cannot agree on how to get wages rising, ride out the downturn, or resolve Brexit – let alone on who their new, more popular leader might be. 

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

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