Tortoise Festival of ThinkIns – The future of the party: the Conservatives

Friday 28 June 2019

Duration: 8:15AM - 9:15AM

16-19 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8DY

Status: Completed

The future of the party: the Conservatives. The way Britain’s next prime minister is chosen will leave a bad taste in many mouths, and shine a light on a big problem. Conservative party members will take a decision which affects the whole country. Those members are disproportionately elderly, relatively well off and overwhelmingly white. Does it matter that the  Conservative party has become so unrepresentative – and what’s to be done about it?

Our special guests for this ThinkIn included:

Andrew Feldman, barrister, Conservative fundraiser and politician.

Amol Rajan, the BBC’s media editor and former editor of The Independent. 

Rachel Wolf, founding partner at Public First.

The Readout 

What to do with the Tories? What is the point of them? I was struck in this ThinkIn both by the intense frustration with the party’s maddening introspection; and – perhaps more so – by a surprisingly resilient conviction that (if the party would only look out of the window) it would still see a wealth of political opportunity and civic challenge.

Three main takeaways:

1.   The party has to move far beyond Brexit. As Amol Rajan, speaking in a personal capacity, observed: the Conservatives are engaging with a society that simply does not exist any more. They are failing badly to come to terms with the historical reality that the West has weakened, that technology is changing everything, that identity means more than respecting the 2016 Leave vote.

2.   But there are plentiful ideas to be developed and opportunities to be seized. Charlotte said that the Tories needed to take radical action to help the young get on the property ladder. Chris said that the party should not forget Margaret Thatcher’s insight that much environmentalism was wholly consistent with true conservatism.

3.   The party needs a narrative as well as a suite of policies. I liked Judith’s revelation that she had joined the party twice: once to meet boys, and the second time because she supported Rory Stewart. He had found a way of encouraging the party to confront the truth – about tax cuts, about Brexit, about the difficulty of politics – whilst engaging their emotions. In its present populist mood, the party doesn’t want him (for now). But the combination of empathy and realism that he presented is the future of centre-right politics.

Thank you to Anne for reminding the policy wonks in the room that what voters care about is the state of local schools, crime in their neighbourhoods and their cash-strapped council services – not the ‘–isms’ of political science.

What next?