I was an early moderniser. In the mid 1990s I felt the Conservative party needed to change. The old fashioned approach based on supporting the pro European UK establishment in conjunction with Labour and the Lib Dems had led to national economic crisis with the Exchange Rate Mechanism. The Tory brand was damaged by association with the high interest rates, decline in output and the boom and bust which our membership of the ERM caused. Far from being too detached from the EU by the Eurosceptic wing of the then Tories, the party had come too close to the EU sun and its economic wings had melted. The Conservative party allowed its opponents to tell a story as if Conservatives revelled in making economic life tough, instead of the truth that the whole UK establishment including the leaderships of all three main parties had just made one of their worst collective mistakes which had cost us dear. It was the ERM, Euro ideology, which caused the high interest rates and the damage of the early 1990s recession. Once we cut free we ushered in a long period of expansion.
With some others I began to seek change and modernisation. We fought and won the battle to keep the UK out of the Euro. Maastricht was the first EU Treaty the UK signed where we managed to keep out of the main point of it. I felt we needed to go further, and show that if we kept or restored more of our economic independence from the EU we could use the powers wisely, in the wider interests of the people.
Of course I agree that Conservatives should be proud of the UK as it has become, and keen to unite the people who now share the fun of the Olympics and wish this country well. I do not think the Conservatives ever had the problem which Labour tried to pin on them. Conservatives do not wish people ill or seek to make life less pleasant. There is a long tradition of Conservative welfare policy to help those in need. Many Conservative members have long had a proud tradition of being volunteers in other causes and charities. Mr Cameron’s Big Society is just recognising an old truth about Conservative concepts of public service and volunteering. Conservatives are often the ones who will roll up their sleeves and get on with whatever needs doing, instead of demanding a grant from the government.
To me modernising is spreading the word that greater freedom can bring greater happiness and prosperity. The message should be that we want more self employed owning their own businesses, more successful small businesses, more people owning their own homes and other assets. We want a country of owners, a country where most people have a stake in our society, a country where hard work and enterprise are rewarded and risk taking admired, not condemned. Modern Conservatives need to be freedom loving, and to encourage individual and family enterprise and responsibility.