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It was never a choice between modernisation or no modernisation; but about the nature of modernisation

Some readers will have been following the debate between Daniel Finkelstein and Janet Daley about the rights and wrongs of Tory modernisation. In my view Janet has got the better of Danny - particularly in what she wrote in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph... but Danny has responded on his blog this afternoon.

The frustrating feature of their debate (and many others of a similar kind that have happened over the years (Matt d'Ancona's depressing column yesterday being an example of the problem)) has been the tendency to frame the debate as a choice between modernisation and no modernisation rather than about the method and extent of modernisation. There were a few Tories in the wake of our third successive defeat who believed in 'one more heave' but very few.

I've always regarded myself as a moderniser. In 2005 I wrote a paper called the '44% manifesto' and years before had worked with Oliver Letwin, David Willetts, Iain Duncan Smith, Gary Streeter and David Lidington to renew the party's one nation tradition. In the last General Election campaign - the very earliest days of ConHome - I fretted about the lack of balance in Michael Howard's message. But if I'm a moderniser I'm not what George Osborne once called an über-moderniser. I think there are four differences between my position and that of the übers.

I've always believed that addressing the challenge of domestic and international poverty was more important than many of the lifestyle modernisations advocated by the übers. The übers' 2001 manifesto - A Blue Tomorrow - majored on issues of gay rights and other lifestyle issues, for example, and hardly carried anything on poverty. Fortunately David Cameron - hugely supported by Iain Duncan Smith - did not make that mistake although he rightly made the party more respectful of gay people.

Through the 'And theory of Conservatism' I've argued that the new messages need to be blended with the old. I've always worried that emphasising rediscovered aspects of conservatism - like social justice and green issues - to the exclusion of the established aspects would actually confuse the conservative brand in voters' minds. A failure to root the new conservatism in the old would make the changes look suspect. They risked making modernisation look like a PR exercise. We needed to show we were a broader party, not something fundamentally different.

I've never believed Conservatives should stop talking about tax, crime, Europe and immigration. One of the übers' beliefs is that voters are so convinced that the Conservative Party is tough on immigration and Eurosceptic, for example, that you didn't need to talk about those issues any more. All energies, they argued, should be focused on shifting perceptions on green issues and so on. The trouble is that the silence on traditional issues has sometimes left traditional supporters confused, even disheartened. A poll for last week's Express found that voters had lost faith in all the parties on immigration. The pace of modernisation would have been more gradual if we had pursued themes in parallel but it would have been more solid.

I've never believed we should over-do the self-flagellation. Some übers argue that the most important thing is that we show we are not 'the same old Tories'. Yesterday Matthew d'Ancona was arguing for more detox: "Cameron has to conquer a generation-old national assumption that the Tories are up to no good, lining their nests, over-privileged, mean-spirited, and refugees from contemporary society." It was vital that we decontaminated parts of the Tory brand but, as I argued last week, the voters most want a party that will fix the country. We should not stop reassuring but we must convince voters that we are a credible rescue party. 

Tim Montgomerie

11pm: Melanchthon on CentreRight: Modernising and modernising


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