Magazine article The Spectator

Time for a Completely New Party

Magazine article The Spectator

Time for a Completely New Party

Article excerpt

As someone who has been taking part in this extended leadership contest, I can say this with some authority: so far it has largely sent people to sleep. The contenders -- including this one -- have made worthy speeches about the 'big issues' and set out some interesting policies. We've called for 'modernisation' and a 'move to the centre ground'. We've trotted out the familiar mantra of Conservative principles that form the core of our political philosophy. But we have failed to get to grips with the real problem: what is it about the Conservative party that causes us to keep losing elections?

It is not about policies. Of course we need inspiring policies to deal with today's problems of declining economic competitiveness and the consequences of social breakdown.

But we know that many of our policies are popular and right (which is why the Labour government is now introducing some of them). And we know that the exciting political ideas of the 21st century (like flat taxes and choice and competition in public services) are coming from the centre Right. But on their own, radical policies will not rescue us from our political predicament.

Neither will attacking the government with more vigour. For heaven's sake, we've already called Tony Blair a liar. People know that Labour has failed, which is why at the last election it got the lowest ever share of the vote for a governing party. Our problems are not even about presentation or organisation, vital though it will be for a new leader to build on what Michael Howard did to make the party a disciplined fighting force and Central Office a powerhouse of modern campaigning.

The Conservative party keeps losing elections because it has failed to recognise two basic things.

First, that Tony Blair has changed the Labour party fundamentally, adopted many centre-right positions and won three elections in a row. The country wants us to wake up to the changes that have taken place and address the challenges of the post-Blair era, rather than attempt to turn the clock back. If the Conservative party persists in believing that Britain is the same as it was in the 1980s, or that Tony Blair is a grotesque Attlee socialist -- that to win again we just need to prove our free-market credentials -- then we condemn ourselves to stay exactly where we are: in a hole.

Britain has changed; free-market economics is now the consensus, as Gordon Brown's rhetoric this week showed. Tony Blair is not an Attlee socialist: under his leadership, Labour is New Labour, not Old Labour. It will continue to be New Labour under Gordon Brown, whatever we might wish to believe. We have to come to terms with political realities today, with life in Britain today.

The second fact we must recognise is linked to the first. The Conservative party has to understand that unless it undertakes fundamental change, it will continue to be seen as out of step with the modern world, and continue to lack the association with aspiration and opportunity that is essential for political success. I know that every time I say this it sends some commentators -- like Simon Heffer -- into a complete lather. Frankly, I couldn't care less. The attitude that he personifies -- that the Conservative party just needs to shout louder and hate the modern world even more -- is not just part of the problem. …

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