Towards the end of the John Major era a group emerged in the Conservative party who called themselves modernisers. My initial reaction was favourable, as I too thought we needed to modernise, to generate a new agenda for a new century. Some of what they wanted us to do made sense. They promoted a new tolerance, an enthusiasm for civil liberties, and a less restrictive attitude to people’s individual lifestyles. During the Labour years they sought to ensure that a future Conservative government would not wish to change Labour’s legislation on these matters. Many of us agreed we would not repeal Labour’s social legislation, though we also came to see that Labour in office was too authoritarian, permitting new attacks on the government where it took away our lliberties.
Modernising came with a price, however. It was often factional, seeking to caricature or write off people who held different views or who were more socially conservative. It was also based upon a love of the EU, so that advocates of true modernising decided few Eurosceptics who wanted powers back or wished to leave the EU could be seen as modernisers, whatever their views on other matters. Modernising usually included an interventionist military strategy leading to UK engagement in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria, despite the growing opposition to this on b0th Conservative and Labour backbenches. Some of its adherents wanted to see a realignment of UK politics. They wished to see a new party emerge of modernising Conservatives with Blairite Labour, flanked on the right by a Eurosceptic Conservative grouping and on the left by a true socialist grouping. They saw themselves as centrist. Others thought their military interventions were far from centrist,and many Eurosceptic resented the idea that wanting to stop the transfer of more powers to Brussels was either right or left.
As things worked out, they found themselves liking coalition between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, as that restrained some Conservative policies and produced a government happy to recommend the transfer of more powers to the EU through the continuous drip drip of new EU laws and decisions. Quite often the Conservative /Lib Dem coalition had to rely on Labour votes or Labour abstention to carry its EU and Middle Eastern policies through.
In the referendum the Blairites and the modernisers came together as the core of the Remain campaign. The central axis of Peter Mandelson/George Osborne was backed by leading personnel of the modernisers and Blairites.
Today it looks very unlikely that the Conservative party will split as its enemies might wish. The new Leader has united it by accepting the verdict of the UK voters on Brexit and by promising to implement it. There were always far more Leavers and Eurosceptics than remain supporters or believers in the EU project in the unwhipped Conservative party. However, a split in Labour does look more likely. Mr Corbyn may well win his leadership election, whilst a large majority of Labour MPs may still refuse to serve him in Opposition jobs. Maybe the one part of the modernising plans that will come to fruition will be the detachment of the Blairite Labour supporters and their attachment loosely or more directly to the unashamedly pro EU Lib Dem party.