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Adam Afriyie MP: Let’s help to transform the Conservative Party with renewal

Adam 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.

Screen shot 2013-07-09 at 16.39.59Sometimes I get the feeling that the so-called ‘modern’ Conservative Party is actually reading from a dated script. It appears to have spent too much time focusing on tangential issues that are not the top priorities for the majority of people. Whether we like it or not, many people can’t understand why so much focus has been given to issues such as onshore wind farms, property extensions, HS2, emissions targets and increasing foreign aid. Clearly these are important and vital issues and policies, but right now I think the priorities for most people today are jobs, immigration and the cost of living.

It is time to shift gear

Back in the 1990s, the Conservative family became fragmented because it wasn’t perceived to be inclusive and broad enough. But today, it’s fragmented because the ‘modern’ party has not realised that the world has moved on, and is looking for greater certainty and clarity. Conservatives want to focus resolutely on the big issues surrounding national self-confidence, the economy, Europe and controlling immigration. To some degree, there’s a feeling out there that the party is living in the past and has lost touch with the today’s Britain.

Over the last ten years we have had a chip on our shoulder about our image problem. In the 1990s, rightly or wrongly, the party was seen as racist, elitist and classist. Party members thought that if we were going to win another election, we needed to reclaim traditional conservative values for all people regardless of their wealth, colour or creed.

That’s why I became an activist in the early 1990s, joined the fresh-faced Policy Exchange think tank and then supported David Cameron in the 2005 leadership election. I was a strong believer in the early ‘modernisation’ process. I was proud that Conservatives were tackling the issues that mattered to the people at the time. Just as we always had, we were responding to new problems quickly and effectively. And I understood the equivocal, reflective, discursive and fluid nature of policy making – there was time for that back then. But, today, all of a sudden, it sounds like singing from an old score sheet; stuck in an indecisive, uncertain rut; still trying to modernise for a Britain that no longer exists.

Jobs, immigration, the cost of living and economic growth: these are the things that come out on top in public polls – not the old-fashioned idea of ‘modernisation’.  If we think our party has lost its way, then what is it that we should be doing in Government and with Parliamentary time? Why haven’t we been talking about immigration from the EU? Why aren’t we talking more about the necessary supply-side reforms – like improving employment legislation, reducing tax and red tape, rather than appearing to be arch Keynesians by pump-priming the housing market and appearing to forward-spend billions on distant infrastructure projects of questionable worth? And why aren’t we cheering and celebrating wealth creators, investors and competition? Why does the Party feel it’s uncouth to talk about trade and exports and making big profits in competitive markets? We can’t keep our eyes and ears shut to the public forever, and I’m glad there are early signs of change.

There are big questions about political and policy renewal to be addressed and I’ll be writing more about it in the future.

Let’s welcome the new generation on board

But, vitally, we’re missing a prime opportunity to realise a great future for this country. This generation is one of the most Conservative yet. Now is the perfect time for the re-emergence of solid traditional conservative values such as the small state, lower taxes and unleashing the power of enterprise.

Just last month a YouGov poll showed that younger people were more likely to vote Conservative than to vote Labour – by a huge 4 per cent point gap. Of course, we can’t take a single poll in isolation, but this general trend is exciting. As Ben Page of Ipsos MORI, the polling company, said: "Each generation is less collectivist than the last.” As a party we must be less collectivist too, and chime in with this sentiment, which is wholly conservative.

It is striking that 18-24 year olds are the only age group to think positively of deficit reduction, and only one in five of under-35s believe we should increase welfare payments, even if it results in higher taxes - the lowest of all age groups. The pollsters believe that the Conservative Party's renewed emphasis on personal responsibility and cracking down on the something-for-nothing culture has attracted to younger voters. This is a great sign.

More than ever, we now have the chance to shift the discussion onto our traditional political territory and restate it for the Britain of today. We must seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity with both hands. That way, we can deliver a bright Conservative future that is in tune with British people.

Conservative Renewal Conference

That is why I am delighted to once again be opening the Conservative Renewal Conference in Windsor this year. It is a chance to discuss the future of conservative ideas and policy, the challenges we face and the opportunities to re-embrace and renew traditional conservative values. We want everyone – young and old – to come down and debate these issues and discuss our traditional values and philosophy. I hope to see many fresh faces.

The line-up is superb. We have brought together MPs, columnists, academics, philosophers and think-tankers. It is a great opportunity to spend the day discussing the big issues in relaxed company. Want a ticket? You can buy a ticket with a quick click of the button on  The conference is not about personalities - it’s about ideas.

It’s time to start thinking hard again; it’s time to express our core principles in the modern world; it’s time to understand what has gone well and what has not gone so well. That way we can reunite the Conservative family in the party; return the country to the top of the economic competitiveness leagues, and deliver a country and a party that is at ease with itself once again.

I do hope you will be able to join me at this very special event on 14th September.


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