Yes, Manchester will be a memorable conference for us Conservatives for a host of reasons but behind the headlines and speeches in the auditorium, it was in the fringe events where the true direction of our party was being debated and planned.
Up and down the corridors, members from across the country were queuing up, sometimes for hours, to ensure they secured a place at those events dedicated to campaigning and winning the next election in 2022. The message we took from Manchester was clear; the time to look at the failings of the past is over, we now have to brush ourselves off and prepare for the next battle.
It is with this in mind that the Tory Reform Group has never played such an important role in supporting the party in campaigning towards victory and at a time when our membership has soared to its highest level ever.
As One Nation liberal conservatives we want to ensure that rather than appealing to former UKIP voters, the party looks to regain the centre ground of British politics. This has become especially important as Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist left continues to alienate many voters who are concerned by his drastic and reckless plans for our country. There is a gulf in the centre ground which is ours for the taking and to fail to steer the Conservative party in this direction will only result in electoral defeat.
Steps are certainly being taken to address the party’s veer from the centre – policies such as opt out organ donation, the commitment to UK foreign aid and tackling animal abuse are all welcome announcements. However more must be done to communicate to voters what we, as Conservatives, actually stand for in terms of our values and beliefs.
One area where the party drastically needs to reform in order to win at the next election is in how we attract new members. Gone are the days when Conservative socials were used as matchmaking opportunities, busy young professionals want to be reassured that they will be welcomed, not inundated with time consuming tasks and that their voices and opinions matter and are heard within the local association.
On a local level, in Loughborough we have seen first-hand the enormous benefit of resident surveys which can be handed over to voters and then discussed either half an hour later or at another date. It is time for local associations to step up and take control of their own political literature again, with the guidance of central office, to showcase their in depth understanding of the constituency and the intricacies of the area.
It is also vital that in those constituencies where we have a good chance of winning, we identify and select our candidates as soon as possible. Last time too many candidates were caught unaware and any long immersion period will allow them to get to grips with their patch and spot any campaign challenges ahead of them.
We must, as a party, be brave going forward and understand how we’re perceived and portrayed by others. The politics of today is far too angry and too partisan so as Conservatives it is up to us to offer voters an alternative in a party which will engage with them both fairly and compassionately.
Now is the time for moderates within the Conservative party to step up and champion these very values within our own party to ensure that we can be the party of hope and aspiration. We have seen in the Labour party what happens when the moderates don’t speak up, they are silenced and ostracised and the result is a fate we would never wish on ourselves.
Campaigns don’t end just because elections do, now is the moment for Conservatives to champion liberal centrism so that when we are next on the doorsteps of Britain we are finally able to offer them the compassionate alternative they have been craving.
This article was first published exclusively by The Times Red Box
Nicky Morgan MP for Loughborough and Tory Reform Group Patron and Flora Coleman, Deputy Chair of the Tory Reform Group