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Adam Afriyie: The conservative family needs a family reunion

AFRIYIE ADAMAdam Afriyie is the Member of Parliament for Windsor and Co-Chair of the 2020 Conservatives Economic Commission.  He was Shadow Minister for Science and Innovation from 2007 to 2010.

The conservative family isn't identifying with the Conservative Party...

The conservative family is thriving in Britain today. It’s vibrant and dynamic, full of ideas and opinions. It’s purposeful, strong, diverse, energetic and united in its beliefs. You only have to look at the passionate conservative youth groups, our grassroot activists and the thriving think tanks. Then there are those further afield who live by conservative values, such as small business owners and those people with the work ethic and the family values shared by so many British citizens from diverse backgrounds. The conservative family is alive and kicking today.

However, anyone with experience on the doorstep knows that many people with conservative beliefs are not fully identifying with the Conservative Party. This is a problem because if the country went to the ballot box today, there would be little chance of us winning a majority right now. Recent polls tell us everything we need to know. Sadly, only three in ten people would vote Conservative. So we need to unite, come together - and tackle this issue urgently. I believe that if we act decisively now, we can harness the power of the national conservative spirit, welcome people back into the Conservative fold, and win a decisive victory in 2015.  

...So what’s the problem?

First, we need to unpack the problem. Conservative-thinking people are dispersed. Many academics, donors and activists have been turning to other parties including UKIP. Or people we have traditionally been able to rely on are staying at home, disillusioned with our perceived priorities – last year, only 15 per cent of people voted for a Police Crime Commissioner. Others are identifying themselves as Labour supporters or free-market Lib Dems or working with think tanks trying to push conservative views in different directions to take the pain away. The fact is, many conservatives are hesitant to declare their allegiance to the party.

Why are they so reticent to say they are Conservatives and vote for us? Personally I do not believe that this has anything to do with how left or right-wing our current policies are. I believe it’s partly that people don’t trust the perceived direction of travel – they don’t see why we highlight certain issues first, before others which they regard as more important. Partly they distrust our individual leaders – they don’t sense much understanding or see anyone who seems to genuinely care about what they want. They hear discord and see factions. They see anger and feel under attack. They know the Government is a Coalition, but even so, they don’t like public strife. And they certainly don’t like feeling bullied, belittled or ignored.

But in reality they are all conservatives. They are just not currently on our side. They are not enthusiastic or motivated enough to voice their allegiance or vote for us. They have a sense of disconnection. And all this is because there’s a general lack of clarity about what the Conservative Party now stands for. Conservatives, and the conservative way, are actually in ruddy health - it’s just the Conservative Party that’s struggling. And all the while, the clock is ticking down towards 2015.

The Conservative solution:  A family reunion

Thankfully, the economy is starting to turn. Growth is edging up, inflation is down and there are now more people working in the private sector than at any time since records began. But we cannot sit back and think that a better economy will automatically solve all our problems in 2015. It won’t. There are huge issues facing our party, and we can only overcome them if we put all our effort into reuniting the conservative family. We need to tackle the issues they care about – the common ground that unites us. And make it easy for people to come back to us. We need to welcome back all conservatives with open arms irrespective of the party in which they currently reside.

Our responsibility as MPs and party leaders is to reach out and recognise that the conservative cause, the British cause, is bigger and wider than Westminster and the narrow construct of party membership. The conservative movement is bigger than the political class and transcends our current policies.

Many conservative-thinking people are currently supporting UKIP and, to a lesser extent, Labour and the Lib Dems. If you add these people to the number of demotivated Conservative voters and people who currently do not vote, together, we would be more than 50 per cent of the population. And the party would win a massive majority in 2015. If we stick to our principles this is achievable – 30 years ago today the Conservative Party had a majority of more than 140 MPs. A big, healthy conservative family is the key to winning the next election and vital to ensuring we can make Britain great once more; that we can put this country back on track and give everyone an opportunity to feel confident in the future.

As politicians and leaders we need to focus on the conservative way and conservative values. We need to be clear about where we want to take the country and why. That will take courage, determination and staying power. But we must unite the conservative family, renew our pledge to rebuild the party and put this country back where it belongs – at the top.  I for one will continue to play my part in welcoming all-comers back to the conservative fold and back to the Conservative party.


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