TERRY DIGNAN: The Hertfordshire town of
Hemel Hempstead deserted the Conservatives in 1997 and has shown little
desire to return. Indeed, at the last election, Labour actually increased
its majority here. The Conservatives, it seems, marooned in their southern
English rural heartlands, have lost the knack of attracting support from
all classes and regions
If Ian Duncan Smith can't
win over the voters in places like Hemel Hempstead, then frankly he doesn't
have a prayer. What's required, say some Conservatives, is a total transformation
of the party's policies and its attitudes - to women, for example and to
ethnic minorities. And it would do no harm, it's argued, if the Conservatives
tried harder to shed their image as the nasty party.
A group of former Conservative
voters gather at a house in Hemel Hempstead to form a focus group. They're
here to share some thoughts on the party they used to support:
VICKY: Thinking about the Conservative
Party today, what would you say its main strengths are?
ELAINE: I suppose just tradition.
But I mean they really need to change. They've really got to look at their
image because they're not attracting any youngsters at all.
REBECCA: The only things that I
was made aware of was that they wanted to keep the pound.
LYNN: I think Labour have a more
modern image and are more in touch with the nation, I guess, really, whereas
the Conservatives have a more sort of traditional, almost old fashioned
FRANCIS MAUDE MP: People both inside the party
and outside the party sympathise with the party, who desperately want the
party to modernise.
DIGNAN: Francis Maude, ex-shadow
Foreign Secretary, has got the message. He's teamed up with like-minded
Conservatives including Archie Norman to prepare plans for a new think-tank.
The view of former party strategists that the Tories need new ideas to
widen their appeal is now accepted.
MAUDE: We look narrow. We don't
look as if we represent a broad swathe of the nation, of the country. Either
geographically, or socially or in terms of our ethnic mix or in terms of
the number of women, who are prominent in the party and that has to change.
ANDREW COOPER: Unless the British people
feel the Conservative Party has changed to the point that it shares their
values, that it's able to engage in the debate about the things that matter
to them and that it's a party of decent people not of nasty people, then
it will just continue to lose votes and to lose elections.
DIGNAN: But here in the London
suburb of Romford Andrew Rosindell rejects this analysis. He's a rarity
- a Tory who won a seat from Labour at the last election. He says there's
nothing much wrong with the Conservatives other than that they don't fight
hard enough at grassroots level for what they believe in.
ANDREW ROSINDELL MP: I don't believe that we should say
we've got it all wrong before, let's start afresh, I don't believe that
we need to reform the party from scratch. We've got the right ideas, the
right principles but a wrong image and I think that in the next couple
of years, we need to focus on getting ourselves the kind of image that
is seen to be in touch and in tune with people but also by rebuilding the
party at grass roots, being very active locally.
DIGNAN: But according to our focus
group in Hemel Hempstead, many people feel that the Conservatives don't
want their support.
REBECCA: They don't make it seem
like they're a party for people from all walks of life. It seems like it's
a certain class or clique of people. They sort of need to be more inviting
and welcoming if they want to have more friends.
DIGNAN: These views come as no
surprise to those in the party who feel the Conservatives are particularly
unwelcoming to women and ethnic minorities. But how to tackle the problem
may cause quite a stir.
MAUDE: We are under-represented
by women, you have all these conversations within the party, lots of lovely
people who say well of course, we know we must have more women candidates
and more women MPs and it's a really good idea but it wouldn't quite work
here. That's got to change. And change quickly.
DAVID CURRY MP: Let's be honest about this,
I think we may have to do some positive discrimination to get more women
into the Party. I think we may have to do some discrimination to be able
to get more blacks and ethnic minority people into the Party.
ROSINDELL: I think that's a very
dangerous route to go down and I think that will backfire on us. I think
we should be certainly inclusive. But you do that by treating people the
same. You don't do it by dividing people up in to categories.
DIGNAN: During his campaign to
become party leader, Iain Duncan Smith toured areas of Bradford hit by
riots. He said he wanted to win over Asians here who shared Conservative
values. Yet his supporters included the Conservative Monday Club which
wants the voluntary repatriation of immigrants. Some Tories want the party
to disown such attitudes.
CURRY: Where you do get excrescencies
which go to extremes, then I think the Tory Party would well take the opportunity
publicly to have a couple of show trials and actually say well they're
no longer part of the Party, and we had the opportunities in the last Parliament
and they weren't taken.
DIGNAN: It looks as if Tory HQ
agrees. To symbolise the Conservatives' commitment to a multiracial society,
the party, it appears, has decided to ditch the Monday Club.
On The Record can reveal that three Conservative MPs, including Andrew
Rosindell, have been told to resign from the Monday Club. We understand
the party intends going further by making party membership incompatible
with belonging to the Monday Club. It could be a sign that Iain Duncan
Smith accepts that the party's image amongst ethnic minority voters must
change. But others warn the move could be divisive.
ROSINDELL: The symbolic action
that the Conservative Party need to take is to prove that we as a party,
want everybody to support us and to join us and to be candidates. I don't
think we should single out one group or another group and say we don't
want you or we want you. We want everybody in our party but we're not going
to start, and if we do start this, it's going to cause us great difficulties
in the long term. But we're not going to start going down the route of
DIGNAN: Our focus group regard
big domestic issues like tax and spending as no less important than how
to make the Conservatives more representative. It seems that cutting taxes
is no longer as big a vote winner as the Tories believed.
JOHN: Rather than cut taxes
for the individual for those that are high earners and so on and so forth,
you know, to try and put more back into health and education and so not
cut taxes - keep the taxes the same and spend the money in those areas.
REBECCA: They are still going to
need the money aren't they?
JOHN: Of course.
REBECCA: They all say that, so
where's the money going to come from? It's got to come from somewhere.
ELAINE: Make sure you're with BUPA
or HSA or whatever and the National Health is just, let it slip by nicely
and quietly without anybody kicking up a fuss.
MAUDE: I think one of the things
that the party has to do is to show that we are absolutely committed to
the National Health Service, which doesn't mean to say that we think it
should all be set in concrete and preserved without amendment for ever.
But, I think the public don't, by and large, feel that the Conservative
Party is committed to that. I think they're suspicious of us.
CURRY: We impaled ourself really
on a dilemma we couldn't escape from as we approached the last election.
We felt obliged to match Labour's promises as far as expenditure on the
public services was concerned, but simultaneously we wished to remain true
to the Tory tradition of cutting taxes, and people said hang on, the sums
don't add up and quite frankly they didn't really.
DIGNAN: What do you think the Conservative
Party should do under Iain Duncan Smith?
DR ANTHONY SELDON: I think it has to really get
back and remember what the Tory Party has always been about.
DIGNAN: Historian Dr Anthony Seldon
- the Headmaster of Brighton College - says the Tories dominated the last
century because of their pragmatism. In a pamphlet published tomorrow by
the Centre for Policy Studies, he says, they could learn from Tony Blair's
SELDON: They saw that the key to
the Conservative dominance of that Conservative century was that there
was an appetite for power, a hunger for Office and a pragmatism that allowed
the party to jettison values and beliefs that were no longer in tune with
the public and to adopt new positions, centralist positions, moderate positions
that allowed it to capture the core middle vote in British politics.
DIGNAN: The party, it is said,
lost its preference for pragmatism over ideology under Margaret Thatcher,
seen here campaigning in Romford at the last election. But many in the
party would be loathe to move to the moderate centre if it meant, for example,
abandoning a Thatcherite tax-cutting philosophy.
ROSINDELL: Margaret Thatcher won
three election victories with very large majorities, it's only when we
appeared to lose our direction, it's only when we seemed to become very
unsure of ourselves, and rather wishy-washy that we began to lose again.
I think that we should stand by what we believe in, be true to ourselves.
CURRY: We have not been able as
it were to close the door on that Thatcherite period and it is still haunting
us. What we need to do is to be able to say Mrs Thatcher was a glorious
part of our history, we now need to look to our future.
DIGNAN: The current priority for
the new Tory leader is to show support for Britain's armed services.
UNNAMED MAN: Welcome to HMS Lancaster.
DIGNAN: But with an eye on domestic
politics, Iain Duncan Smith says he wants to move on from Thatcherism and
create a more tolerant image for the party and new policies for public
services. But time is not on his side.
ANDREW COOPER: There are a lot of constituencies
in this country where at the last election it was pretty hard for local
parties to perform the most basic functions of a Party, delivering leaflets
and knocking on doors, and without an influx of new young members by the
next election it is not an exaggeration to say there will be seats where
that can no longer be accomplished, so the Conservative Party unable to
attract younger support simply is going to die.
DIGNAN: In the glory days of Margaret
Thatcher Hemel Hempstead backed the Conservatives. Yet the voters here
now feel little nostalgia for Thatcherism. That's why Iain Duncan Smith
is under pressure to learn from Labour, become a pragmatist and lead his
party to the centre ground of British politics.