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Mark O'Brien

The tenor of this blog post seems a little unfair on Rifkind. I agree with you that we can solve problems in inner cities and pursue a more Eurosceptic tone at the same time (heck, I'm ambitious, I think we can send a man to Mars at the same time too!!). But he didn't talk of opposing a right-wing policy on Europe, immigration, etc. but opposing a policy concentrating on Europe, immigration and all those issues. His choice of words is poor, as it looks to the observer as if he opposes a right-wing policy on certain issues, but what he really opposes is concentrating our efforts on those policy issues, and, to be honest, I wouldn't disagree with him. I think we do need to reassess our priorities as a campaigning organisation, and remember that there are serious problems in our public services, our society is falling apart at the seams, taxation is too high for businesses, earners, savers, even people who die! Whilst we should certainly have a clear plan ready on immigration and Europe which we can put into action in office, we should probably not concentrate on those issues quite as much as we have done before.

Oberon Houston

It is a real choice. It’s the choice of whether we believe we can win the support we need by pitching our Party to the right and wooing people over, or do we take the view that we should engage the voters with Conservative principles in the centre ground, accepting the current popularity for major issues such as social justice and public services.

Selsdon Man

Mark, I agree with you totally. Our policy on Europe is an issue that will need to be developed in the light recent developments. The European Elections in 2009 (assuming that the general election will be in 2010)will provide the ideal opportunity to launch a new European policy with a clear and focused message.

As for Malcolm Rifkind, it is unwise to dismiss him as a candidate of the left of the party.

The Party has to address the fact that, due to demographic change, immigrants and their families will have an even larger share of the vote at the next election. The Conservative Party needs to have policies that addresses the concerns of the immigrant communities, including Muslims. If we fail, our vote will simply wither away.


I agree that we shouldn't put undue emphasis on the core vote positions (as we've done at the last two general elections) but they must remain a critical part of our appeal and identity. The 'And theory' can act as a discipline/ lock - requiring one side of Sir Malcolm's 'real choice' to have to put forward a broader position every time they put forward a beloved core position, and anchoring the other 'one nation' side to the essentials of conservatism.

Selsdon Man

The core vote is loyal and ought to realise that the Party needs to expand its support base to win. The way to do that is develop new policies in areas in which there are gaps or deficiencies - the environment, urban regeneration and housing are typical examples. We will gain nothing from trying to outdo Labour on political correctness.

Wat Tyler

Ed- despite our little fracas last night- I'm with you.

Rifkind is presenting a classic false choice- I think of it as "the green and scaly" option.

Selsdon Man

Do not dismiss Rifkind as he is a skilled and able politician. I am, however, very surprised and disappointed that he has not offered more policy. The repeated call of "One Nation Conservatism" means nothing outside the Westminster village. David Cameron was right to criticise him for trashing the brand too. It is not surprising that Rifkind's supporters have drifted to other candidates.

James Hellyer

I don't think we have expressed the core vote issues at the last elections. Or at least where we have done so, we have adopted a shrillness that reeks of panic rather than confidence in our beliefs.

We need to speak to the core vote with more confidence and articulate the positive outcomes of Conservativce policies.

At the same time, we need to demonstrate to people that their perception that we are in some way nasty is wrong. People won't trust us with health and education while they think all we're interested in is helping rich people buy their way out of the system.

Selsdon Man

James, I agree. The party's communications and campaigning needs to be improved greatly.

We must win the public's trust on "public services" before they might even consider radical policies.

David Cameron's repeated campaign theme "We're all in this together" is clever and demonstrates that he is thinking about how to articulate a compassionate conservatism.

Presentation matters as much as politicies and that is Cameron's strength. He needs to convince me on policy. At the moment, he appears to be a bit too "big government". Maybe Che Gove has a few tricks up his sleeve on that.

Oberon Houston

Agree too. Its not enough to tell voters we are right and they (Labour) are wrong. We need to reassure voters, regain their trust and become more eloquent and consistent in our delivery of the message.

Easier said than done considering the amount of bickering going on internally, but once we convince Tories of the need, it will be easier to deliver that consistent message. We REALLY need to get our act together though. If Labour make a hash of this term and our image remains poor then the Lib Dems could become a major threat. If that does not give you nightmares, nothing will.

Mark O'Brien

The question is: how do we gain the trust of people to run public services when many conservatives are eager to change them significantly?

Nobody describes a radical, energetic new CEO of a once-great but now dwindling multinational as a dependable, trustworthy figure at the helm, because they understand that he will overhaul the company and drag it into modernity. In that vein, nobody who reads the comments on this blog would place their 'trust' in me personally to run the NHS, because they know that I personally want to overhaul it completely.

I suppose this is just me having a language safari through the word 'trust' but is it really possible to be 'trusted' with something and to 'change' it at the same time?

Oberon Houston

Well... In that case will a lot of people not just plumb for the risk-free option of the status quo?

Mark O'Brien

Exactly. So rather than offering a new safety first message like Stanley Baldwin's, or accepting the consensus like Harold Macmillan did, why not go further and offer something big.

In the choice between bold, visionary reform and the dependable, trustworthy consensus, there is no saying which way people will turn. So rather than worry about whether people trust us, if we put together a bold, well-presented and appealling platform, we may be given one chance to show what we can do.

If we do go for radicalism rather than acceptance of the status quo, nobody will talk about trusting us to keep things steady. Instead, they will be giving us a chance to show that our way is best. The idea of seeking trust is then lost, because it would not be trust that we want, but the opportunity to change.

James Hellyer

We'd still suffer the problem that we aren't trusted, Mark. No matter what the effects of your health and education reforms are supposed to be, unless people trust that you have their interests at heart, they will just assume it's another policy designed to help the rich at the expense of the poor.

Unless that underlying trust is there, radical ideas will never be accepted.

Mark O'Brien

James, I agree with you but there are varying levels of trust. On the one hand, we want people to trust that we have their interests at heart (I personally advocate tearing down most of the Welfare State not to help the rich, but for the betterment of the poor; in place of the Welfare State, I want the rich to be working a lot harder for poorer people, not lining their own pockets).

But when many people talk about trust, I fear that they don't necessarily mean trusting that we have their interests at heart. A lot of people talk about trust as in the trust to hold things steady and keep things going as they are.

I'm really just playing with words. Of course we need to have people's trust to take action on serious problems, but my issue is with the word 'trust'. It could mean so many different things.

James Hellyer

I'd say "trust" means two things. Firstly, that people think you have the best interests of them and their neighbours at heart. Secondly, that you are competent enough do deliver on your promises.

Currently we score very lowly on both scales. The polls from the last election showed that what we did bother to tell people about our NHS policy was perceived as a way of giving people could afford to go private (i.e. the rich) kickbacks. Similarly nobody believed we'd deliver lower taxes. The consensus was that we'd put them up too.

Selsdon Man

Spot on James!

Nationally, we need to highlight our competency in running effective, low tax local councils. As the party with the most councils and councillors, we are trusted at a local level but not nationally.

The Parliamentary candidates who were successful have campaigned on local issues - hence new MPs promoting localism.

Rebuilding the Party must start at the grassroots level. That is why investment training and new technology is so crucial.

The danger is that the new leader retains the current centralised command and control (top down) approach. That is demonstrated by the proposed "reforms".

The problem is, ironically, that those who run the Party support localism for local government but not the Party. The two go hand in hand.

Jacob Träff

I'm a little afraid that Sir Malcolm, Kenneth Clarke or any other reformer or what they want to be called, would turn the Tory Party into New New Labour.

We should remember that the Tories have never won by behaving like Labour but they have won three times by behaving like Tories. The Conservative must offer "a choice, not an echo". It should be clear to any voter that that alternative is lower taxes and more freedom. And when it comes to Europe, the Liberal and Labour views creates a need for a choice. If the Tories are not the balanced common-sense choice on Europe, right-wing people will vote for UKIP.

But I do agree that a broader Conservatism is needed, a victory over the "wets" should not make the likes of Clarke and Rifkind leave the party. There must be room for discussion and open debate. Maybe the way forward is a more American-like party, with a broad spectrum of ideas.

Selsdon Man

Right-wing people voted UKIP and BNP (800,000 votes!!) at last year's European elections. We cannot afford to water down our policies again.

The big problem with Clarke is how would deal with more treaties and directives that give more power to Brussels. That is how the constitution will be brought in by stealth. It is happening already. Clarke would give in.
Rifkind, a realist, would not.

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