David Cameron’s Conservative modernisation agenda is struggling. Several of today’s front pages highlight how traditional Tory issues — immigration and family values — have returned to the centre stage. And many of Cameron’s attempts to modernise his party on big issues (climate change, green energy, gay marriage, HS2) have met with a negative responses. How can he retool his modus operandi to win a Tory a majority at the next general election?
Policing and ex-immigration minister Damian Green has a few suggestions. In a speech he will give to Bright Blue this evening, Green suggests Cameron’s modernising agenda is not yet an ex-agenda, and can still be refashioned to work in 2015. In particular, Green urges his party to present a ‘balanced portfolio’ of policies, which may include restrictions on mass immigration:
‘…therefore I am proud to be a member of a Government that is meeting its targets on overseas aid, and equally proud to be a member of a Government that is cutting immigration numbers. The first is a policy that shows we care about the most unfortunate people in the world, in line with the principle of engaging positively with the world beyond our shores. The second is a policy that promotes social cohesion, in line with the principle of supporting genuine communities.
‘As it happens, cutting unskilled immigration in particular helps those who are striving at the lower end of the jobs market, so these propositions reinforce each other at crucial points. Only Tories, rather than Liberal Democrats, will recognise that these policies are mutually reinforcing.’
In contrast to the stance of many of his fellow MPs, Green will also urge the party to advocate continued membership of the European Union, in order to to ensure economic stability:
‘…our long-term economic interests must remain at the heart of Conservative policy. This sounds obvious but it is not a platitude as it impinges hugely on the debate both party and country are going to have about Europe in the next few years. The central point which needs to be stated calmly and clearly is that we are better off in.
‘It is true that the old pro-European arguments, which bought into a vision of inexorable progress towards a United States of Europe, no longer hold any appeal for Conservatives. There is though a hard-headed pragmatic economic argument that our membership is to the advantage of the British economy, and therefore the British people, and that this remains the case even with the enormous current problems faced by the Eurozone. ‘
The minister also suggests that the Tories must break out of their traditional South East comfort zone, something Neil O’Brien advocated in the magazine a few weeks ago. Green underlines the need to target the ‘blue-collar conservatism’, though George Osborne appears to have picked up on this with his fuel duty freeze in the autumn statement.
While CCHQ begins to ponder how to win the next election, Green offers some hope that the party need not resort to fighting an election on a primarily right-wing agenda, akin to 2001 and 2005. As Cameron and Osborne begin to develop a strategy for 2015, it will be interesting to see if and how many of these ideas are taken on to ensure Conservative modernisation reaches its final goal.
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