Magazine article The Spectator

Energy, Enthusiasm, Beliefs-These I Offer

Magazine article The Spectator

Energy, Enthusiasm, Beliefs-These I Offer

Article excerpt

ON 1 May the Conservative party was not merely defeated. It was humiliated. It would be easy to despair, and even easier to mount a search for culprits. The wiser course is to recognise that defeat on this scale presents opportunities as well as difficulties. The Conservative party can be proud of its achievements over the last 18 years in government. We have transformed the performance of the British economy, and changed for the better the lives and prospects of everyone in Britain. But this is not a time to look back. It is time to move on from what we have achieved, and to plan what we are going to achieve when we return to power in 2002. This election is not a battle for the soul of the Conservative party, or even a contest between different factions within it. It is about giving back to the Conservative party its self-belief and its will to win.

To recreate that faith in victory, a great many things about our party will have to change. The one thing that will not change is our values. Twenty years ago, in my first noted political utterance, I predicted that people - and particularly young people - would flock to a party which promised to set them free. And so it proved. The Conservative party was returned to office in four successive occasions, as we set people free from overbearing trade unions, excessive taxation, interfering bureaucrats and unnecessary regulations. Somehow, that message - the message of freedom - has got lost. Over the last few years, New Labour has portrayed us successfully as the party of greed, selfishness, dogma, division and sleaze. The electorate has now delivered its verdict.

To reverse it, we need over the next five years to build an organisation and a programme capable of carrying our message of freedom to those people and places where it is no longer being heard: Scotland, Wales, the West Midlands, the young, the inner cities. Our first task is to ensure that the message is not extinguished altogether in those parts of the country where we now lack not only Parliamentary representatives, but councillors and Euro-MPs as well. There is a danger that even the activists will be lost if we do not rebuild our strength quickly in the constituencies and the councils. We need to bring younger, different and more energetic people into the life of the party at every level, involve them in the making of policy and choose them as candidates.

Our second task is to modernise the techniques by which we transmit our message to the British people. New Labour has learnt a lot from us in terms of policy, but we have a great deal to learn from them about the management of the modern media. Traditional methods of influencing public opinion, and even of electioneering, still have their place. For gathering intelligence and winning members there is no substitute for a strong local party headed by a professional agent. But a party which does not understand how to build a reputation and win a loyal following for it through the use of the media can never hope to defeat a party whose sole raison d'etre is to flatter the media.

Our third task is to refresh the message itself. We need to make people feel good about being Conservative, and voting Conservative, once again. This means ensuring that our policies express our values, and the aspirations of the British people, in practical ways. Too often, over the last five years, we have appeared to be harnessing conviction to policy rather than policy to conviction. As a result, we have appeared simultaneously remote from ordinary people and at the mercy of events. …

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