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All Modernisers Are Now Cold Weather Modernisers

Last Updated: Friday, January 18th, 2013

I was expecting to be writing about the Prime Minister’s Europe speech this afternoon but for tragic reasons that are dominating the media there was, of course, no speech. I’ll return to Europe in my final paragraph but let me first refer to another important event from the week – the publication by the BrightBlue group of “Tory Modernisation 2.0” (a PDF of which is here –

The cover of last week’s New Statesman magazine presented the debate inside the Conservative Party as a debate between a forward-looking Cameroonian faction and a prehistoric Tory-saurus wing ( And at times the debate does look like that. The huge unhappiness caused by the gay marriage issue has certainly exposed not just internal divides but, more regrettably, a mean-ness of perspective and an unwillingness to even attempt to understand the other side’s viewpoint.

Overall, however, I’m struck by the way that the modernising debate has progressed since the turn of the millennium. Ten or so years ago there were essentially two modernising wings of the party. At the time I called them the Soho and Easterhouse wings. Mine were simplistic caricatures but they represented enough truth to be helpful ways of understanding the debate:

  • The Soho modernisers gathered around Michael Portillo and Francis Maude and won the lion’s share of media attention. They wanted a more liberal attitude to sexuality and family structure. They wanted more women and ethnic minority candidates. Some of them wanted a more liberal policy towards drugs. They also wanted the party to talk a lot less about Europe, tax, crime and immigration. They had mixed views on the public services. They wanted them to be at the top of the Tory agenda but couldn’t agree whether that meant big reforms to schools and hospitals or big ring-fencing of existing budgets and structures.
  • The other modernising wing congregated around Iain Duncan Smith and I should declare my interest – I was a part of it. The Easterhouse modernisers wanted the party to focus on poverty. The Easterhouse faction didn’t think the party’s primary problem was that it was too liberal but that it was too hard-faced. This faction didn’t believe that the party should abandon its traditional selling points but that it needed to recover its one nation roots. It also worried that its ambition to deliver greater social justice would be undermined if the Soho-ites succeeded in their attempts to downgrade the importance of traditional family structures.

The interesting thing about the state of today’s modernisation debate is the extent to which the Soho and Easterhouse groups have come together. Many Easterhousers have moved towards the Soho-ites on issues of gay equality and candidate diversity. Soho-ites have embraced Iain Duncan Smith’s agenda on jobs, welfare, drugs policy and, largely, the family.

99% of the Tory MPs are actually united around the flagship Gove (originally Soho tendency) and IDS (Easterhouse) reforms. 99% are agreed on deficit reduction. 95% support the localism agenda of Greg Clark and Eric Pickles. 90% support the transparency agenda of Maude, Hilton and Willetts. 90% support the Halfon/ConHome agenda of putting the low-paid at the front of the queue for tax cuts.

Reading the BrightBlue group’s book and reading David Skelton’s essay for the New Statesman ( I am struck by the common ground shared by those people who still think the Conservative Party has to modernise. Danny Finkelstein has written about a new phase of modernisation that fits these austere times – he’s called it “cold weather modernisation”. Cold weather modernisers don’t worry so much about global warming and do worry about energy bills. They worry less about civil liberties and more about anti-social behaviour. They worry less about public spending and more about public sector waste. There’s a focus on Northern England, the low pay of low-skilled workers, the cost of housing and justice across the generations.

Insomuch as there is a significant divide inside the Conservative Party – it’s NOW not so much between different modernising tribes but between those who think the party needs to change again as much as it already has (towards the North, the unpropertied and the low-paid) and those who reject further modernisation. The build-more-houses push from Nick Boles is particularly controversial.

If Cameron can deliver his European speech before too much longer and if he then succeeds in winning time for a four to five year period of renegotiation (by offering an In/Out vote in 2018/2019) his party can focus on this second post Soho/Easterhouse phase of cold weather modernisation. Britain’s relationship with Europe will most likely be decided in the next parliament. Whether Britain has a Tory PM in that parliament will, in part, be decided by whether Modernisation 2.0 becomes a lot more than a slogan.

By Tim Montgomerie



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By Tim Montgomerie

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