Now the Conservative rebuild begins: the centre right’s path
back to power

Now the Conservative rebuild begins: the centre right’s path back to power

There’s no escaping that the general election result is a body blow to the Conservatives. Thousands of words have been penned dissecting the reasons why, but weeks before the final result, the party faithful were already engaged in frenzied debate about how best to revive its fortunes.

The bottom line is this: if Conservative Campaign HQ learns the right lessons and rebuilds accordingly, they may be able to ensure prime minister Starmer is a one-term wonder.

This isn’t (just) partisan optimism. We know that public opinion is more volatile than ever before, with voters more transactional than tribal. The Conservatives have been clearly punished by the public, with Labour happening to be the most viable alternative. We know that Starmer doesn’t enthuse voters, he is the least popular Leader of the Opposition to win an election in recorded history. Whilst he can be credited with Labour’s transformation since a historically poor 2019 result, his political success owes less to his oh-so-dull election strategy and more to not interrupting his opponents while they were making far too many mistakes.

This contributes to Starmer’s ‘monumental sandcastle’ – his seat total is large, but his support is spread very thin. Fewer people voted for Labour on Thursday than voted for Jeremy Corbyn in 2019. Unless Labour delivers real results, and fast, then it could all be easily washed away at the next general election.

We can’t control what missteps and crises will inevitably dog Labour in office, so to ensure the fastest possible recovery the Conservatives need to get its house in order in record time.

I’ve been a grassroots activist for over 15 years and a councillor for a decade. I’ve worked in parliament, served as an adviser to a prime minister in 10 Downing Street and stood as a candidate in the 2019 general Election. For my money, the path back for the centre right must follow these 10 steps:

  1. Take the time to learn the right lessons from defeat

Voters never reward division, and entrenched ideology is the fuel for internal factional fighting. A hard-headed, data-driven approach to why and when we lost is crucial.

Actively listening to the party faithful will be key. Members should be surveyed, the party chairman should travel the country to meet with grassroots campaigners. Association, area officers and unsuccessful candidates should be invited to provide detailed feedback. Engaging with those MPs who were elected, and demonstrating that you have heard their frustrations, is the first step in the slow but essential task of rebuilding trust in every corner of the professional and voluntary party.

We should take our time with this. It’s essential to get the foundation solidly established before diving into a leadership contest. How else can they credibly suggest a way to reconstruct without truly comprehending where things went so drastically wrong – on the ground, and in the national campaign hierarchy?

  1. Choosing the right leader for the task ahead

Once we know what needs to be done, picking the right person to do it will be pivotal.

Whoever becomes the new leader, they need the ability to be able to unify the party and in time, present a common-sense Conservative vision to the electorate. That can only happen if they have a clear mandate and the support of the parliamentary party and the grassroots membership.

We need to all be cognisant of what we’re actually voting for – it’s not just who we’d like to be our Leader, but who is the most electable for the public at large. They need to be first and foremost a tried and tested Parliamentary performer. Charisma in front of a crowd and in the press is non-negotiable. An appreciation of modern communication techniques and old-school pavement-pounding is a must.

And they need to be in touch with the natural conservative instincts of the British public, advocating aspiration and meritocracy wherever they go. Which is why it’s vital that they prioritise rebuilding trust with our historically loyal heartlands.

  1. Reconnect with the base to restore trust

A failure to deliver on past pledges, to articulate passionately a convincing vision for a conservative United Kingdom, and a failure to properly run public services, has opened the door to disillusionment and Reform UK. This is not Pandora’s box. It is a direct response to trust being eroded and it can be fixed.

We should address the causes of past scandals by implementing measures to improve transparency and accountability, fostering a culture of integrity within the party from the new leader on day one.

The case for going back to basics is strong – but more important is authentically vocalising the shared frustrations of the populace. Listening in and of itself isn’t enough, we need to demonstrate over and over again that we get it, that we are the right choice to steward the country through a turbulent decade.

That starts from building capacity in local communities.

  1. Start with local issues and build real campaigning infrastructure

The first test of our efforts to regroup will be the local elections in May 2025. It will be too soon to divine our long-term fate, but we should nevertheless hope for the earliest indications that recovery is underway.

To do that, CCHQ must identify target local authorities and invest in developing the strongest possible grassroots campaigning infrastructure. After this election, they’ll need centralised assistance to kick-start the fight back. Many hardened activists will drift away – we’ll need to support those who stay and do all we can to attract new members.

Building resilient, self-sufficient Conservative Associations is essential if we are to take back the newly lost marginal Labour constituencies at the next general election. That foundation needs to deliver strong campaigns on local issues all year round, not just in the run-up to elections. To do that, it needs to be fun. Associations are important social groups for so many. In time that ethos will be rewarded with the election of Conservative councillors to deliver good value local services.

If a strong track record of local delivery can work for the Liberal Democrats, it can certainly work for us. Only by winning Council elections, and investing in grassroots party infrastructure, can we hope to rebuild our machinery in time for 2028/9.

  1. Unity and discipline – becoming an effective opposition

Whatever comes at us over the coming years we must relentlessly drive unity within the party, doing all we can to avoid public disputes and factionalism.

Labour will make many mistakes. With too few MPs, we cannot waste time or energy on senseless splits when we have a duty to provide constructive opposition to the government.

That will require discipline and compromise from all quarters, grounded with an understanding that the path to power can only become a reality if we are one team, with a laser-like focus on exposing the inexperienced, ideologically-driven policies of the new government.

  1. Policy reassessment will restore our credibility

The Conservative Party brand has rested on two core pillars: that we are a party that can be trusted with running the economy; and that we are the party of law and order.

The actions of Liz Truss obliterated the first, and the lockdown parties under Boris Johnson removed the second. It is no wonder that our reputation took a nosedive after the mini-budget and never recovered.

Restoring our credibility rests on a truly dispassionate review of our policy platform, with a keen focus on areas where voters have told us our offer wasn’t convincing.

As a responsible centre right party, we must develop strong positions for each of the national and geopolitical challenges facing the UK over the coming decades. On economic recovery, immigration, housing, climate change and more. We mustn’t shirk from our duty to lead public opinion with policies based on our core values, and resist the populist temptation to blindly follow the polls.

  1. A credible plan to improve public services

While the early years of opposition are necessarily about finding our feet, it won’t be long before we’ll be asked what our plans are for improving the NHS, education and other public services.

We should be pushing at an open door here. The Conservatives are expected to be the party of fiscal responsibility, of efficient and productive management, whilst showing that this approach is best to support the most vulnerable in our society.

Life in Opposition, and the lack of a Civil Service resource to rely on, will take some getting used to. Thankfully, we have many allies in the think tank and business world who will happily support our bright new MPs with fresh suggestions, research and connections.

  1. Go where your voters are: modernising the party

From what we buy, to the entertainment we consume, the digital options available to us all are vast – and that’s changing expectations of the electorate at large.

We’re now used to binging a Netflix series and pausing whenever we want. As such, ‘Generation Playlist’ is increasingly bemused by the nuanced ideology of political parties, potentially demonstrating an aversion to compromise and moderation.

Whilst voters will always seek out those parties that they believe will make their lives better, there’s no getting away from the fact that they increasingly reward excitement and entertainment from our political leaders.

Understanding how voters make those judgements, by digesting what information and where, will be a core challenge to the modern generation of Parliamentarians.

Our MPs have no choice but to get to grips with the ever-evolving digital tools available, using those channels to reach as many people as possible to communicate our positive, uplifting vision for our country.

That may be uncomfortable territory for many of them, but it’s essential to be visibly engaging where our people spend their time.

  1. Leadership built on a long-term vision

To be worthy of leadership, in time for the next election we need to develop an inspiring, hope-filled narrative for what the United Kingdom will look like under our next stewardship. Relying solely on short-burst retail politics will give the satisfying sugar rush of populism, but it isn’t worthy of our great party.

We always should tell the hard truths when they need to be heard. We should use our position of responsibility to shape public opinion, leading our neighbours away from reactionary views and towards society-building principles.

The Big Society; Tackling the Burning Injustices; Levelling Up – these recent political pole stars were crafted to have the best interests of the community at their core, despite ultimately failing to connect with people. Strengthening the social fabric of towns and villages across the country, with the family unit at its heart, is still the right approach and will be the overriding challenge in a world increasingly suffering from digital isolation.

Whatever it ultimately is defined as, our refreshed Conservative vision must be compelling, inspiring, uplifting – and it must resonate with the instincts of the public.

  1. We win by broadening, not narrowing, our common-sense coalition

All of these steps will count for nothing if we don’t recognise and respect the political reality: flirtations with left and right will always come and go, but largely people want to live their lives free from government until they need it. This is natural Conservative ground and the one we should be holding.

To ultimately win we need more votes, in more constituencies, than any other party. Our unashamed mission must be to attract the widest possible coalition, including younger voters and those from diverse backgrounds. All whilst never again abandoning the concerns of our traditional supporters. Without doing this, we will simply not have the numbers to return to Downing Street.

Entire tomes will be written about each of these steps – they must be taken seriously and enacted deeply, imbued at all times with a sense that we have listened to the electorate and responded to their concerns while staying true to the Conservative Party’s core values and principles. It won’t be easy, but if we do that then we will be in the strongest possible position to regain power.

In 2019 Labour won its fewest seats in postwar history — if there’s one lesson we can take from Sir Keir, radical transformation can definitely be achieved in the span of one parliament.

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