I’m sure like most Conservatives I watched last week’s BBC 2 Wonderland documentary, “Young, Bright and on the Right”, with great disappointment.
It was ill advised both in terms of the participation of the young people involved at a time in their lives when they perhaps lacked the judgement to understand its outcomes, and from a journalistic perspective by the BBC, who wilfully manipulated the participants and the subject matter to present an entirely skewed perspective of the Conservative Party at its grassroots.
Whilst Conservative Future (the Conservative social organisation for younger members) has some considerable issues, racism, anti-Semitism, and social elitism are not among them, and, if anything, less prevalent there than in most organisations.
Nonetheless it remains a danger that there will be those in Conservative Party circles who will take the view that, following the consistently negative press stream which stereotypes British Conservatives as feckless, disconnected faux-aristocrats, a significant internal change is necessary.
What is actually of far greater necessity, and must form part of the resulting reforms from the Leveson Inquiry, is protection against the sort of irresponsible, biased and misleading journalism that allows for programming like Wonderland to be broadcast.
The social structure of the Conservative Party has changed significantly in my lifetime, and often to become more welcoming to those from a wider variety of backgrounds. If anything the focus on that change has become too significant and led to an almost stasi-esque approach to managing associations and output by CCHQ, and attempting to push public opinion with hollow initiatives like the failed “A-list”.
There is a yet greater danger however, that the Conservative Party makes the mistake of assuming a change to its social structure necessitates or equates to movement in its policy in government away from values traditionally considered as conservative.
While the Party does still have issues with its public image, the movement to modernise the Party since 2005 has consistently made the fundamental error of assuming conservative ideology or policies are the problem; they are the solution.
A Bow Group & Elevation Networks study this year into the views and attitudes of young Black students found that there was huge support for policies supporting individual freedoms, lower taxes, prioritisation of family values and a highly aspirational and acquisitive outlook , but when those policies were identified as Conservative the cultural barrier became apparent.
The Conservative Party was seen as being that which much of the media seeks to portray, and as was portrayed in the Wonderland documentary; not only non-inclusive, but made up of utterly distasteful individuals entirely foreign from normality, and this served to overshadow any policy.
More interestingly the perception was held that politicians were disingenuous, paying only lip service to widening engagement beyond a shallow elite for electoral purposes, and therefore willing to sacrifice any principle or policy for political gain.
Only 16 percent of all ethnic minorities voted Conservative at the last general election; are we to believe that only 16 percent of ethnic minorities want lower taxes, responsible budgets and a smaller state? The Party has similarly declining support across a range of social spectrums that it once relied upon, and that it will need to appeal to again to secure a majority.
The best way to tackle any negative perception of the Conservative Party socially, and to increase the Party’s popularity, is to lead on conservative policy, and to be unfailingly clear and distinct as to the direction of that policy.
The Conservative Party has garnered support among vast swathes of non traditional Tory voters in the past, not by modifying or diluting policies to appeal to polled groups, but by standing resolutely by them and making the movement about nothing else but them.