The party suffered its worst modern day defeat in 1997. At that election the party won just 31% of the national vote. The Conservatives made little progress at the two subsequent elections. The party won 32% in 2001 and 33% in 2005. When David Cameron became Tory leader, in the aftermath of the party's third successive defeat, there was speculation that the Conservatives were finished forever. It was certainly obvious to Cameron that the party couldn't rely on 'one more heave'. The key modernisation model for the Team Cameron was Tony Blair's transformation of Labour during its opposition years. Indeed, Cameron declared himself during the party leadership election to be "the heir to Blair". To his team, modernisation meant prioritising issues previously treated by the Conservatives as second-order matters: the environment, international development, civil liberties, social justice, more diverse Parliamentary candidates. Particular stress was placed on preserving the NHS and its budget. Simultaneously, more traditional Tory issues received much less attention. The near silence on issues like tax, immigration and crime was believed essential if the modernisation message was to reach voters. Not until Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair, and built a large poll lead, did Team Cameron decide that "uber-modernisation" had failed to deliver results. During the Party's 2007 Conference, tax cuts and welfare reform were revived. Chris Grayling was promoted to toughen up criminal justice policy as part of a 'pub ready' reshuffle that also saw Eric Pickles become Tory Chairman.
This more balanced modernisation - what ConservativeHome called "the politics of and" - seemed to be delivering results and was less confusing and more authentic. The failure to integrate the old and new messages from the start fed a sense that there was something inauthentic about the Tory message, however. No big idea - such as economic renewal - linked the commitments to social justice, the environment and the education reform.