The New Politics

2nd October 2017

THE NEW POLITICS

Our party currently stands at a crossroads.

The General Election demonstrated the extent to which politics is changing. And showed in the starkest terms how we must change with it.

We can’t hide from our challenges. But neither must we revel in the negative. Or embrace the blame game.   

Instead, I believe we need to think through and set out carefully:

• First, an honest assessment of what went wrong.

• Second, a realistic strategy and plan for the future – thinking beyond Brexit

• And, third, a sense of opportunity and vision for how we get there, and the new opportunities that a new generation will enjoy

Over my 20 years of campaigning, I’ve seen politics change completely. The old model of command-and-control has gone. The digital revolution has upended almost every industry, and politics is no exception.

Post-war politics was about the party machines rolling out their ‘retail’ messages. The speed of modern media in recent years has led to a more reactive, defensive message management designed for the dawn of the 24/7 news cycle.

21stC politics couldn’t be more different. Just like social media itself, it is not centralised, but communal. Breaking down the old hierarchies. To be relevant to a new generation, politics must be more - above all social and cultural personal, local, visible. And positive.

For me, I saw first-hand the reality of this campaigning revolution most obviously when I contested in Stevenage in 2005.

Standing on a ticket of ‘Positive Politics’ to try and break through which won one of the biggest swings in 2005. At Conference that Autumn I was invited to give a talk on the lessons of Positive Politics: campaigning in an age of cynicism, arguing that a campaigning earthquake was coming and we urgently needed to act. Indeed, it was that insight that secured me a place on the A list in 2005 and allowed me to become an MP.

And stood behind the other campaigns I founded; Mind the Gap! (2003), highlighting and exploring the growing tide of discontentment of party politics. It Starts Here! (2010) campaign in Mid Norfolk and ‘The Norfolk Way’, my defining constituency/ social enterprise: launched as a Candidate and still pursued as a tangible sign of putting constituency before Party.

I believe this is fundamental to a grassroots renewal of politics, demonstrating that Conservatism is a movement inspired by shared values. Of course, twelve years ago social and digital media were only just beginning. Now they are at the centre of our national discourse. The lifeblood of political discussion, especially for a whole new generation of young voters. Young voters we are at risk of losing if we fail to wake up and adapt. Because we must be in no doubt of the challenge ahead of us. New data from the Resolution Foundation shows the scale of the task clearly. Despair about the present and pessimism about the future. 33% of millennials would rather have grown up in their parents’ generation. While 53% think they will be worse off than the previous generation. Put simply, our choice as a party is brutally clear. We can be the Luddites of the political world, an analogue party in a digital age. Or we can recognise one central truth.

The factor that has made the Conservative Party the most successful political operation the world has ever seen. The party that saw the changes of the Victorian period and become the embodiment of them, who recognised that the world was different after 1945 and embraced the NHS and the creation of the welfare state, and who saw that the era of central planning was drawing to a close in the seventies, and instead led the world into an enterprise revolution that transformed the global economy.

Our party has always been the party of innovators, buccaneers, entrepreneurs and pioneers. Not those who looked to the past, but those who looked to the future. And we must do so once again. Urgently.

The era of slogans, soundbites, command and control, news management and everyone repeating the same ‘lines to take’ is over. The playbook of 1987 won’t grant us victory in 2017 or 2022. We’ve seen it in America. We’ve seen it in the General Election. And we’ll see it again in another five years.

Politics has changed, and the Conservative Party must change with it. The PM has led the way, signalling that this election raises vital questions we have to address. And I’m glad to report that the work is already underway.

The Election Review being led by Rob Sempell, Andrew Sharpe, the Board and the Conference Team is vital to helping us understand what went wrong in the election campaign and, more importantly, prepare for the future.

This was a ‘near miss’. But next time there will be no second chances.

Because, make no mistake, Comrade Corbyn is at the door.

JEREMY CORBYN AND MOMENTUM

We cannot afford to be complacent about the threat Labour pose to all we have achieved over the last seven years. Indeed over the last 37 years.

Behind the donkey jacket and dogged lone “man of principle” lurks a dangerous force. A combination of Comrade McDonnell, Len McCluskey, and the old HardLeft Union Barons, who brought this country to its knees in the 1970s, and a new army of campaigners exploiting the anonymity and the unregulated campaigning space provided by social media to indulge a new politics of aggressive – at times vitriolic and abusive – personal attack and intimidation which has lowered the tone of our politics and shames the values of the old Labour movement.

For years out canvassing I’m bumped into the old Labour campaign team in large red rosettes, and we’ve always exchanged happy banter and a shared respect for each other’s endeavours. In this Election, they had disappeared and were replaced by angry activists ripping up leaflets and spitting at me. Many fellow Conservative candidates – especially women – received far worse.

The Labour leader’s team have tapped into deep grievances, yes – but used them to whip up anger and vitriol.

It is absolutely our duty to listen to the grievances and come up with solutions.

We shouldn’t play the man but play the ball. We should be polite to Jeremy Corbyn, but ruthless in explaining why the policies he is peddling are wrong.

We need to be big enough to acknowledge the genuine grievances a new generation are flagging to signal WE have the solutions.

But let us never excuse the sort of personal politics of class hatred and stereotyping that Corbyn feeds on.

We are the party of hope. Not hate.

If we win the battle of ideas, we win hearts and minds too.

We win, fundamentally, with our values. So let us take the near miss of this election as a wake-up call and redouble our commitment to the Renewal we need.  

• Renewal of our Union.

• Renewal of our Economy.

• Renewal of our Society. Most importantly, perhaps, a Renewal of our politics. And of our Party too.

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Using Brexit as a time to unite behind the PM’s commitment to a Brexit that works for everyone: those who voted for it and those who didn’t.

Of course, there is one issue that will dominate the next few years.

To succeed, Brexit must be a moment of National Renewal too. Of energy, dynamism and enterprise.

If Brexit is all pain and no gain, it will be not just a betrayal of the promise made by the Leave Campaign, but a betrayal of our destiny, our Party and of our commitment to the Next Generation.

We need hope. Based not on the hatred and false promises of Comrade Corbyn.

But on new industries, skills, localism, infrastructure and public service reform.

A conservatism of enterprise, innovation and opportunity.

And we need this energy because this is an historic moment in our Party’s history.

A moment to rival the Corn Laws, the Great Repeal Bill, Home Rule, WW2, the creation of the Welfare State and the Thatcher Enterprise Revolution.

We need to seize and harness the energy of the great tectonic realignment of politics.

To shape events and not be shaped by them. To make Brexit the moment that makes modern Conservatism rather than breaks it.

CONSERVATISM OF A NEW GENERATION

To do this, we have to reach out to a New Generation. Talk the language they understand. In a tone they respect. In venues they will come to.

That’s why I'm working with the PM and our new leadership team at CCHQ to reform the Conservative Policy Forum and have instigated the Big Tent Ideas Festival.

This is our chance to make this a Party of the 21st Century, a Party of the North, the Cities, the Public Sector, the dispossessed, those left behind and, above all, of the Next Generation.

This will mean Party renewal.

I can already hear the groans. Endless memos from HQ. More committees. Top-down blueprints and software developed by clever people in London who've never delivered a leaflet or fought a seat.   

No. That’s not what I mean at all.

I don’t mean REORGANISATION.

I mean RENEWAL.

Renewal is an opportunity.

A moment when everything is to play for.

A moment to be more entrepreneurial.

To embrace new technology, new channels, new conversations.

A moment to empower the best and inspire the rest. A moment to embody the change we need to deliver.

To be a successful party of the 21st-century, we have to show we are not a vehicle for retaining power for the sake of tribal victory or for the sake of it, but in the name of a deep movement based on shared values.

That means the key is renewal of the grassroots.

New models of outreach and membership.

New networks with the new entrepreneurs who are our donors of tomorrow.

New ways of opening up the way we develop policy.

Reconnecting with a New Generation.

And it is why this Conference today is key.

PARTY REFORM

I believe there are three key areas of reform we need as a party. First, we must expand our donor base. We have always been the champions of enterprise and a sound economy. And rightly so. But having worked as a technology entrepreneur for fifteen years, I know that the frontline of innovation is not exclusively found in the City of London or in the boardrooms of the CBI but, instead, across our country. In the labs, seminar rooms and hallways of our great universities and research institutes. In the incubators and start-up enterprise labs up and down the land. These entrepreneurs don’t wear pin-stripe suits, and wouldn’t be seen dead on the prawn cocktail circuit.

They’re too busy building the economy of tomorrow, and we need them to help us build the party of tomorrow, and the government of tomorrow. These new generation entrepreneurs often don’t have any direct political affiliation.

They want enlightened public policy and a sound economy. A party that is pro-enterprise rather than pro-corporate and a party that understands that business isn’t just a means to fund the social good but that enterprise can be the wellspring of change. The engine of our economy, and the driver of progress.

There is an entire generation of new entrepreneurs out there. If we are to succeed as a party of the 21stC, then we must reach out to them and show them that their concerns are our concerns, and that we are the best vehicle to achieve the change they want to see. A sound economy. Sustainable public services. A Britain that leads the world in the knowledge economy.

To do that, we need a serious programme of consultation with donors on what they want. A proactive approach to engaging with new prospects. And the appetite to make potentially significant changes as a result. We need to be the Party of the entrepreneurial spirit we unleashed in the 80s – insisting that entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and responsible citizenship go hand in hand.

CELEBRATING THE SPIRIT OF ENTERPRISE AS THE SPIRIT OF CONSERVATISM

Second, we must reach out to all those who wouldn’t dream of voting Conservative at the last election.

1 Younger ‘millennial’ voters, who have come to see us increasingly as the party of austerity and Brexit, seemingly concerned more with the politics of the wallet more than the heart. We must never look like the people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

2 Women, BME voters, public sector employees, voters in London and other major cities of the North and of a really diverse and vibrant Britain

Because too often in our politics the choice is represented as an either/or: Rural voters versus urban voters. Liberal Tories vs the traditionalists. Modernisers vs the old guard.

The Conservative Party only truly succeeds when it is generous enough to accommodate all those distinctions in a celebration of the diversity of our heritage.

We must be the party of traditional rural voters AND urban voters.

The young AND the old. Of England and Scotland. Of the private sector AND the public sector.

Enlightened enough to always be on the side of ordinary working families AND with a message that resonates loud and clear with those building companies, creating jobs, investing across the length and breadth of our land.

A grassroots movement AND a political party.

There are many great ideas for how to do this:

1)      Setting up a New Deal for New Generation ‘Commission' to run major outreach and weave the youth voice and motivation for input into informal ideas festivals.

2)      For BME voters, we must widen the participation in the Party to gain more authentic voices as Councillors and MPs, learning from the successes of Women 2 Win and creating more entry points for people to become engaged in the Party as Diversity 2 Win is doing. We must continue to address BME topics like name-blind applications or disproportionate criminal justice representation against a nonParty backdrop, helping transform perceptions of the Party.

3)      Third, we must recognise that our party is, and always will be, a grassroots organisation first and foremost, and cherish and develop our core centrist base.

The foot soldiers who deliver leaflets door to door are the beating heart of what our Party is.

In 21stC politics they are our greatest asset: grassroots campaigners connecting with voters. Spreading the word. Building a movement, one Facebook post at a time.

But we can never hope to do that with a declining membership base or if the foot-soldiers of this party feel ignored or our approach to social media is so pre-scripted it can’t be authentic.

So we must look at ways in which we can decentralise the ground campaign. Local people know best and we must start trusting them. Trust and responsibility are at the heart of Conservatism.

Getting this right isn’t just an additional extra. It is the first step towards electoral success.

And it stems from being clear about what our values are. And making sure we live out those values in our policies and the way we govern.

A Party that is open, generous and welcoming to all.

A Party that is entrepreneurial, voluntarist and philanthropic.

A Party that empowers people through trust and responsibility.

A Party that looks to the future with ambition and hope rather than fear.

And a Party that believes in active citizenship. Not everyone for themselves, but each for the other. Communities working together to build something better.

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RENEWAL

So the challenges for our party are clear. The task ahead of us is daunting, but together we are equal to it.

That’s why I was so honoured when the Prime Minister asked me to set up her new Policy Board in Number 10 and to lead the Conservative Policy Forum.

Our mission should be not just to manage, but to innovate. To look at the grand challenges of our age.

This is what our renewal of the Conservative Policy Forum is about.

As Conservatives, we have a tendency to look back to the past: wanting to frame our vision through the prism of past glories.

Yes we should be proud of our heritage, values and history. But I believe these new times demand much more than that.

We will not succeed simply by looking back to the answers of the past.

We must, instead, develop a 21st-century Party.

The Conservative Policy Forum can be far more than just the ‘policy salon’ of longstanding members.

It should, in fact, be the engine of our 21st Century outreach movement: signalling our commitment to work with the citizens of tomorrow on the policies for them.

The forum of mutual aspiration where people from all backgrounds, generations, classes, colours and creeds come together and develop the answers we need to address the challenges of our time.

In fifty years, no one will remember the gossip and rumours, the reshuffles and back-stabbing.

All future generations will ask is whether we grasped the seriousness of the big challenges of our time and rose to meet them.

Whether we transformed our economy. Repaired our political system. Tackled the grievances incubated by post-Crash austerity into a more inspiring programme of domestic renewal.

So let’s make this year’s Conference the Renewal Conference. When we all unite behind our Prime Minister to capture the spirit of the Industrial Revolution here in Manchester, of the North, and build a New Generation Enterprise Conservatism we can all be proud of.

Let’s unleash the talents of the best and brightest people in CCHQ and our grassroots party. Give them the autonomy and empowerment to help transform this great movement of ours.

It is our job today not just to be custodians of the past, but guardians of the future too.

Indeed, it might not be fashionable to say anymore.

Difficult, sometimes, even to believe.

But, by working together, I believe our future can be better than our past.

So come and join us a New Generation of the Conservative Party and be part of building that better tomorrow.

Publications

25th August 2017 We Tories must shake off this hostility to business and embrace entrepreneurial capitalism by George Freeman | The Telegraph


18th August 2017 Introducing the Big Tent Ideas Fest by George Freeman | Reaction


6th July 2017 Enterprise in the public sector is the way to end austerity. by George Freeman | The Times


12th June 2017 Where is the mandate now? In Parliament. And why we need a Government that shows it’s listening... by George Freeman | The Telegraph


29th September 2016 Theresa May's big thinker - an interview with George Freeman. by George Eaton | New Statesman


5th July 2016 It’s all about economic confidence and leadership now, so I'm backing Theresa May to be Prime Minister. by George Freeman | The Telegraph


22nd June 2016 Jo Cox was the flag carrier of a new generation of MPs. by George Freeman | The Times