David Cameron tells defeated general election candidates why he believes the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday saw about around 150 defeated Conservative candidates from England and Wales (I have picked up disquiet from some quarters in Scotland that those north of the border were not invited) gather in London for a debrief on the general election.
The overall impression from those to whom I have spoken is that it was a very positive and constructive afternoon and that candidates hugely appreciated the opportunity to share their experiences with each other and those at the top of the party.
There were presentations and Q&A sessions involving George Osborne, Director of Campaigning Stephen Gilbert and Party Co-Chairmen Baroness Warsi and Andrew Feldman, with the highlight of the afternoon being a reception at 10 Downing Street addressed by the Prime Minister - which I gather candidates felt was an especially generous gesture on his part.
Here are the highlights that I have picked up from conversations with some of those who attended. Anyone there who would like to pass on any other thoughts can email me in confidence.
David Cameron believes we failed to win a majority because we didn't reassure enough swing voters (and not because the core vote was marginalised)
The Prime Minister was keen to dispel any talk of the election result being poor, reminding candidates that more seats were gained than at any election since the 1930s, and that many people had said that it would take two elections, not one, before he could countenance entering Downing Street.
Whilst he said on the one hand that he didn't want to prejudge the findings of CCHQ's own inquiries into the election outcome, he was forthright in rejecting any suggestion that the party failed to win because it had failed to focus on core values or be Right-wing enough. The reason the party did not win a majority, he said, was because not enough people trusted the party with their vote and that more reassurance needed to be given to swing voters so that they could vote Conservative with confidence and without fear.
Observers of Mr Cameron yesterday came away with the impression that he views that coalition arrangement as a positive way of showing how much the Conservatives have embraced change in a way that should appear to those centre-ground voters.
It has also been reported to me that he seemed extremely bullish about the coalition providing the potential for a broader realignment of politics on the Centre Right that could keep Labour out of power for a generation - the exact opposite of the dream of the Left-wing commentariat which would have seen a realignment which marginalised the Conservatives for the foreseeable future.
The party realises that it has a problem in appealing to certain sections of the electorate
ConHome's General Election review highlighted the party's difficulty in appealing to voters in three particular categories: public sector workers, Scots and ethnic minority communities. The consensus from the discussions yesterday afternoon was that the party machine very much accepts this failing and appreciates the need to do more to reach out and reassure these groups.
The party was taken aback by the degree to which the TV debates dictated the media agenda
Those making presentations yesterday seemed to indicate that they had not expected the TV debates to frame the election to the degree that they did. This effectively made it harder to get traction on certain themes which the party was attempting to push such as the "Big Society". Furthermore, the party is still trying to establish exactly what happened to the Lib Dem vote towards the end of the campaign.What next for candidates?
David Cameron and others who addressed the candidates sought to reassure them that they remained part of the wider Conservative team and that they should remain involved in the party - although it was made clear that none of the redrawn seats are likely to be in a position formally to select candidates until 2013 (as I pointed out here the other week).
The assembled candidates were encouraged to involve themselves in social action projects and local election campaigns - although no mention was made of the AV referendum - as well as helping to reinvigorate the grassroots.