Tomorrow I will be opening the Conservative Renewal Conference in Windsor.
The organisers and I hope it will be a forum for robust centre-right debate that will also raise money for the Conservative Party.
I’m delighted to be welcoming our activists and engaging with people from across the country with an interest in the future direction of the Conservative Party and conservative ideas.
It is rare that you get an opportunity to listen to such a variety of thoughtful speakers including Jesse Norman, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Daniel Hannan, Syed Kamall and Guido Fawkes, all in one place. It promises to be a lively day discussing policies, ideas and new ways for conservative thought to help to win elections.
The Conservative Party is a broad church and it has so many of the right answers. Its values chime closely with most people’s hopes, aspirations and beliefs, and it has members and supporters from diverse backgrounds, with views drawn from across the political spectrum. This is a healthy state of affairs for any political party.
Our party has many of the solutions to the big issues of today. The figures speak for themselves: the deficit has been cut by a third from 11% to 7.4%, 1.4 million more people have jobs than in 2010, net immigration has fallen to its lowest levels in over a decade and GDP growth is forecast to hit over 3% by the end of this year.
On all the things people really care about, we seem to be making progress despite the constraints of Coalition. There is more to do. I am keen to build on this progress and ensure that our conservative message is well communicated, and well received, so that we can achieve the breakthrough required to win the next election.
However, one of my greatest concerns over the last few years has been the apparent inability to connect with the whole Conservative family – all the people we want to vote for us. We know that Conservative values resonate with most British people.
We defend the vulnerable, uphold the rights of the individual and family, believe in the rule of law, create opportunity for all and will fight, above all, for freedom; freedom from overbearing state interference and freedom to control your own life. These values are those of the British people.
As a Conservative party activist for 25 years, I know we have the good sense to welcome back our core supporters with open arms, including those who may have been tempted temporarily to vote for other parties.
We must keep our doors open to all Conservative-leaning people, even when their views don’t align precisely with current Conservative policies. We must listen, understand and embrace their wider concerns on subjects such as immigration, the EU and Syria, especially when we fundamentally agree on so much. Britain has changed and we must continue to change with it.
Clearly there has been some controversy about the conference and that’s not altogether surprising. It is a shame that Conservative ministers are now unable to attend and engage with grass roots conservatives, but perhaps this is understandable.
But if the party is to continue to reflect the changing views of the British people and have good chance of winning future elections, then we do need to engage with our natural supporters and be open to emerging views and policies.
I hope that the Conservative Renewal conference will be the beginning of a new phase that brings together people from across the Conservative family that leads to new and renewed policies fit for the future.