New campaign unites Tory right wing
Two Tory big beasts helped launch a campaigning group today which plans to send out a “distinctive” and traditionally Conservative message to voters ahead of the general election.
Conservative Voice - backed by senior backbenchers Liam Fox and David Davis as well as up-and-coming stars of the 2010 intake - said that it would not be subject to the constraints imposed on ministers by coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
Its launch will inevitably be seen as an attempt to push the Conservative Party to the right and an implicit challenge to David Cameron's attempts at "modernisation".
Conservative Voice founder Don Porter - a former chairman of the Tories' voluntary wing - wrote earlier this year that Cameron's "detoxification" drive had seen the party "lose touch with its grassroots and with the values that brought it so much success".
He today indicated that he would be seeking to attract voters on the right of the political spectrum by saying he was "personally very keen" to win back former Tories who have defected to Ukip.
But members of the new group insisted that they will work alongside the leadership, and Mr Porter said he had been in close touch with 10 Downing Street during its creation.
Conservative Voice will not target its support only on right-wing candidates in the 2015 election, but will focus on winning seats and securing an overall majority, said Mr Porter. The group has already identified the 25 most vulnerable Tory seats and the 25 most winnable marginals where it hopes to assist with campaigns.
The launch comes with the Prime Minister struggling to placate Conservative traditionalists.
It emerged over the weekend that an MP was approached to run as a "stalking horse" candidate against Mr Cameron. London Mayor Boris Johnson has also been accused of using his post-Olympics popularity bounce to manoeuvre against the premier.
The new group is intended to unite grassroots Tory activists and more senior politicians who "support the Conservative agenda of individual aspiration, small government, low taxes, a broad rather than deep relationship with Europe, more direct accountability to voters and radical thinking on providing public services and tackling the country's social and economic challenges".
It aims to use modern campaigning tools such as Twitter, social media and e-petitions to reach out to aspirational voters who feel alienated by party politics.
As well as Mr Davis and Dr Fox - both leadership rivals to Mr Cameron in 2005 - other MPs attending this morning's launch in Westminster included prominent members of the 2010 intake Dominic Raab, Robert Halfon and Stephen Barclay.
Dr Fox said: "This is about us not only improving our field skills in terms of getting ourselves elected, but also setting out our stall to voters.
"There are limitations to what ministers can say given the constraints of coalition. There are no limitations on what we can say."
Asked whether the Tory leadership should follow the example of Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg in trying to set out a more distinctive party position within the coalition, Dr Fox said: "Clearly, as we move towards the next election, there will be a need for us to differentiate our brand and set forward a clear Conservative message. I think we have been doing that quite successfully in recent days.
"I'm not at all surprised that the Lib Dems want to set out what they believe in. We also have very long-standing traditional Conservative views which we intend to set out very clearly."
While Tory MPs understood that there were bound to be "difficulties and compromises" resulting from coalition government, "that doesn't mean we change our core message", he added.
Mr Davis insisted that, in coalition government, it was "very healthy that we are able to espouse viewpoints which are distinctive".
Summing up the group's aims, Mr Porter said: "I see us being able to help the majority party in the coalition to get its core messages across. There is more work to be done to put what we believe in across to the wider electorate."
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