I have often sought to debunk the myth that splits within parties stop them forming governments. The large wet-dry civil war in the Thatcher Tory party accompanied three election wins. The rancorous and public Brown/Blair split in Labour did not prevent three good wins for a Blair led Labour party.
Since 1992 and the last Conservative General Election win, there have been stories of a split between modernisers and traditionalists in the Conservative party. Today I wish to explain why I am neither, and why I think the future of the party rests with those of us who see ourselves as post modernisers.
I agree with the modernisers’ central perception. The Conservative party cannot win an outright victory in the next General Election by simply reassuring the core vote and stressing just the views of the core on Europe, immigration and social policy as some suggest. The Conservative party has to reach out beyond its core, to attract new and different voters to a broader coalition who think on balance a Conservative government is right for them and better for the country than a Labour one.
I agree with the traditionalists that the Conservatives will not do this successfully if the party identifies a few causes or issues that are different which annoy its core support sufficiently to put some of them off voting. Reaching out must add voters, not run the risk of producing net losses of voters. Some ultra modernisers have suggested policies in the past which they think are doubly good because they not only win over a few new people, but they wind up the old guard. That is bad politics, a misinterpretation of Mr Blair’s triangulation. A party needs to have some intellectual coherence. It will be a coalition of people and causes, but the causes have to be compatible.
Mrs Thatcher’s three big victories did not come from concentrating on a narrow Conservative agenda. The broader coalition came from her obvious support for all who wanted to get on in the world and saw the UK had to change the way it worked to earn a higher standard of living. Giving people with little or no capital the chance to buy their own Council home or a share in their business popularised a Conservative message about saving effort and enterprise in a way which brought new voters to support it. Abolishing a tax every budget and cutting the rates of Income Tax for all was also an inclusive policy that built wider support. Enfranchising employees in the ownership of their firm and giving them more voting rights in their unions empowered more people. Standing up for the UK abroad and negotiating the EU rebate was popular beyond the confines of traditional Conservative support.
So what are today’s equivalents? I think the Conservatives should offer a freedom coalition. Our policies should embrace personal freedoms, civil liberties, and greater freedom of choice in public services. I will suggest more detailed policies soon based on my idea of a manifesto for freedom.