Tories need to connect with liberal youth or risk being reduced to rump party in rural England, warns Nick Boles

Planning minister also floats the idea of reviving the National Liberal Party

Deputy Political Editor

The Conservatives risk being reduced to a rump party in rural and suburban southern England unless it is able to reach out to liberal-minded younger voters, a close ally of David Cameron warned today.

Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, attacked the willingness of some Tory MPs since the Coalition’s creation to play along with the caricature that the party contained “heartless extremists”.

His outspoken remarks dismayed senior Conservatives who moved swiftly to distance themselves from the comments.

Mr Boles, an early supporter of Mr Cameron’s pledge to modernise the party, called shortly after the Coalition’s formation for a pact between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at the 2015 election.

In a speech today Mr Boles explained that he had believed a pact would have been the best way to achieve the “broad, open and generous party of my dreams”, but now he realised he had been misguided.

He said: “I thought our willingness to compromise with the Liberal Democrats in the national interest would help persuade the public that we moderated our ideological fixations, would show we had really changed.

“I did not realise our coalition partners would do everything in their power to paint us as heartless extremists. And I underestimated the readiness of some in the Conservative party, and the press, to play up to the caricature and thereby fall squarely into their trap.”

He told the Bright Blue think-tank that the Tories now had to be “our own liberals” to ensure they did not reverse the “fragile gains of modernisation”.

Mr Boles said voters under 25 were “markedly more liberal on both social and economic issues” than their older relatives – and his party had to realise they would respond to a different message from that aimed at “stalwart supporters”.

He said: “The Conservative Party will only rebuild itself as a national party which can win majorities on its own if it understands it cannot do so by making a single undifferentiated pitch to every age group and in every part of the country.

“If we are to avoid being pushed back into a rural and suburban redoubt in the south of England, we need to redefine ourselves as an alliance of distinctive political forces which work together to produce a common election platform and programme of government.”

Mr Boles floated the idea of reviving the National Liberal Party, which existed between 1931 and 1968, when it merged into the Conservative Party. He suggested it could field joint candidates with the Tories to maximise support – particularly in three-way marginals where the Liberal Democrats perform strongly.

“We could use it to recruit new supporters who might initially balk at the idea of calling themselves Conservative,” he added.

A senior Tory source slapped down the idea, saying: “We will field Conservative-only candidates at the next election. Nick Boles is speaking for himself, not anyone at No 10 or Conservative Campaign headquarters.”

A Liberal Democrat source said: “We understand Nick Boles’ frustration with some elements of his own party. But if he’s looking for a sensible party of the centre ground, he’s welcome to apply to join the Lib Dems.”

Jon Ashworth, the shadow Cabinet Office Minister, said: “Nick Boles, one of the Prime Minister’s closest advisers, has let the cat out of the bag – David Cameron’s so-called detoxification of the Tories has been a sham and his modernisation project is dead and buried.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most