A new think tank called Onward will launch itself this evening. It’s pitched itself as a Tory think tank, but I warmly welcome it. I get the sense that they want to push the Conservative Party back towards a more classically liberal direction of travel, away from the “citizens of nowhere” shtick that has marred May’s premiership, and I’m all for that. Basically, if we’re going to live in a world where the Tories are likely to have power so long as Mr Grumpy Socialist is the only viable electoral alternative, then I’d prefer the good Tories to win out.
Will Tanner, the director of the think tank, put it like this:
“We need to be the party of both traditional working class voters who are disillusioned with Corbyn’s Labour and the party of younger, metropolitan voters at ease with the modern world. If we don’t, we will forfeit our political relevance and be finished for at least a generation.”
This is a tough ask, getting these two groups under one tent, but with Corbyn around it is just about possible. The problem comes down to Brexit – it will surely be the elephant in the room tonight as it always is these days at gatherings of Tory liberals.
A real problem for the Conservative Party is that it has in no way even attempted to sell Brexit to young voters or the liberal metropolitan portion of the electorate. In fact, it has pretty openly told these groups of people to go get stuffed, calling them “saboteurs” for even daring to have questions about what happens to the country in the wake of the referendum result. This has pushed a lot of people into Corbyn’s camp for lack of anything better. This has been the primary mistake the post-Cameron Tories have made, the one that led to last year’s general election folly: in politics, never, ever think your opponent is so bad no one will ever vote for them. For reference, see: Trump, Donald.
The problem now is, it will be so much harder for the Tories to win back those who feel pushed away by Brexit, given all the water under the bridge. There might be a small window of opportunity, however, after May steps down. The new PM could possibly claw some territory back, and here’s what I think the best way to do that might be, speaking as both a liberal metropolitan elite type and someone amongst that cohort who would rather be dragged by horses across the Sahara than vote Labour while Corbyn is their leader.
I would call attention to and apologise for all the “enemy of the people” and “citizens of nowhere” rhetoric. Hell, blame it all on Theresa May. Paint Brexit as a culture war that the Tories got in the middle of, but one that a new, modern Conservative Party is going to mend. While caring about the NHS is vital, don’t try and go all socialist on everyone – if that’s what people want, Grouchy Pants with the Allotment is available. Be liberal Tories, not socialist ones. And talk about Brexit specifically and how the 48% were ignored – and won’t be any longer. I know you’re all waiting for May to move along before doing any of this; I think groups like Onwards should be laying the groundwork for this new direction as soon as possible.
Like I say, my only skin in the game is that I’d rather like to see the country not get taken over by Marxists in the wake of Brexit. But that’s more than enough.