Peter Snowdon is the author of Back from the Brink: The Inside Story of the Tory Resurrection, which is published today by HarperPress. He will be talking about the book at the Royal Society of Arts on 18th March.
"We will be tested. I will be tested. I’m ready for that... So yes, there is a steep climb ahead. But I tell you this: the view from the summit will be worth it."
David Cameron could not have chosen a more apt metaphor to describe the journey his party has to complete if it is to return to power. The scale of the task is formidable, as readers of ConservativeHome will be only too aware.
Chronicling the last thirteen years, the longest uninterrupted period in Opposition the Conservatives have endured since 1832, has also been a rollercoaster journey. Contemporary history enables an author to capture the drama of an unfolding story. But it also means that the narrative can turn in the most unexpected directions. While researching and writing my book, the banking system could have collapsed bringing the economy to a complete halt and a snap general election could have been called either by design (after Gordon Brown became Prime Minister) or through the sheer pressure of events (amid the expenses scandal last year). Now that the Parliament has run its course, this author has breathed a sigh of relief!
The inspiration for Back from the Brink comes partly from the experience of collaborating with Anthony Seldon on his two-volume biography of Tony Blair. The material from that project was gleaned from hundreds of interviews with the leading protagonists, including those at the heart of Blair’s inner circle. For this project, I was fortunate enough to speak to successive leaders, their advisers and senior figures across the party from the Shadow Cabinet to representatives of the grassroots. I hope that it provides an unvarnished and fair account of how the party dramatically lost its way in Opposition and began to beat a path to recovery.
"Standing there, I really did think that we were seeing the annihilation of a party that was capable of functioning in the future."
Those fatalistic words of Oliver Letwin capture the sense of trepidation that many senior Tories felt as they stood outside Conservative Central Office on a windswept night in late October 2003. A majority of Tory MPs had just voted to depose Iain Duncan Smith after a prolonged period of acrimony, division and despair. The party teetered on the brink of an implosion midway through the Parliament.