The Conservative Party is thought to be the world’s longest standing political party. But it faces a future of decline if it does not broaden its appeal.
In last year’s general election, the Conservative campaign won 43 per cent of the vote. The prime minister attracted more votes than Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher in their prime.
But the Tories lost ground among the parts of the electorate that will decide future battles. Among younger generations, the most troubling swing was not among 18 to 24-year-olds but professionals and parents aged between 25 and 45.
The party lost the greatest number of votes among those who rent their home privately, whose number has doubled since 2000. And among those from ethnic minority backgrounds, the share voting Labour grew while the proportion voting Conservative fell slightly to fewer than one in five.
All these electoral groups are growing as a proportion of the electorate. To win next time around, the Conservative Party must broaden its appeal.
The good news is that it has already shown that it is capable of it. Last year, 2.3 million more people voted Conservative than two years previously. Conservative MPs were returned in places once thought to be impenetrable Labour strongholds, like Walsall and Mansfield, and the Conservatives got their largest share of the working-class vote since 1979.
In last month’s local elections, the party held councils in London while making gains in places like Peterborough and Derby. The challenge ahead of the next election is to consolidate those gains and build an even broader coalition.
The Conservative Party needs to be the party for both traditional Labour voters disillusioned with Jeremy Corbyn and younger, urban voters who want a party at ease with the modern world.
To do so, we must speak to the everyday concerns of working people on the economy, housing, jobs and community and put forward a bold and optimistic pitch to those groups for whom it is countercultural to vote Conservative.
We must find new ways to boost average wages, support entrepreneurship and small business and help workers retrain when their jobs are threatened by automation.
We need to develop policies to help proud former industrial towns and cities in the north and Midlands to flourish once more, not just by continuing devolution but by supporting the growth of the private sector.
We have to build on Britain’s unrivalled heritage in research and innovation to harness new technologies, from artificial intelligence to virtual reality, and act to limit the social consequences that stem from them.
We have to take action to give a younger generation the opportunities their parents had, especially by returning the dream of home ownership to a generation deprived of it.
And we must seek to reach out to people of all backgrounds and ethnicities and show them that the Conservative Party is on their side.
These are the key themes that Onward, the new think tank we are launching tomorrow, will focus on and campaign for. Because political parties do not win majorities from their ideological fringes, they win from the mainstream of public opinion.
Will Tanner is director of Onward and Neil O’Brien is a Conservative MP.