The making of a modern Conservative Party

From a speech given to the Bow Group by Francis Maude, the shadow Foreign Secretary at the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth
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The Independent Online

Fifty years ago this autumn, a group of young graduates took the first tentative steps towards the creation of the Bow Group. They had decided already that it was time to end the Fabian Society's monopoly on ideas - especially from young people. Their aim, initially, was "to combat the influence of the Fabian Society".

Fifty years ago this autumn, a group of young graduates took the first tentative steps towards the creation of the Bow Group. They had decided already that it was time to end the Fabian Society's monopoly on ideas - especially from young people. Their aim, initially, was "to combat the influence of the Fabian Society".

But alongside that belligerent objective there was a continual effort to broaden the range of people to whom the Conservative Party appealed. The way to do this, they believed, was by using strictly fact-based arguments to draw support for new policies. An attention to the facts; studiousness; caution sometimes, radical thinking at others. These are qualities we need to bring to bear.

Today politicians, indeed the political process itself, are held in widespread contempt. Politicians are meeting contempt on the doorstep. That's not new in itself. We can all remember the odd occasion when a smart step backwards has been necessary to avoid the imprint of a door knocker in the forehead.

That is part and parcel of politics. What is new is that these people who firmly shut the door on us are not interested in Labour, nor the Liberal Democrats, nor any other party. The reason is quite simply this: that over the years politicians of all colours have promised and failed to deliver.

We must make a relentless honesty the first and abiding hallmark of the modern Conservative Party. We must insist on the highest standards of accuracy and probity in what we ourselves say. Always tell the truth. Always use statistics objectively. Never exaggerate.

We must conduct ourselves in our public and political lives with a rigorous integrity. The public knows that politicians are flesh and blood, and few today - luckily - require their politicians have utterly unimpeachable private lives. But we will never command trust unless our conduct as politicians, and in how we manage our own party affairs, meet the highest standards.

We have to be big enough to admit it when we have got things wrong, and to apologise. A big part of Mr Blair's recent descent into political mortality has been his absolute reluctance to do this.

We, after all, should be the party above all that understands that Britain has never, and can never, survive in splendid isolation. We know Britain has always been a maritime nation; trading across the world; a nation with global reach before the term globalisation had ever been coined. And that today we are a nation not on the edge of anything in this new network world; but a nation capable of being at the centre of everything. Self-governing: yes. Isolationist: never.

Labour, while trying to steal our "One Nation" clothes, made much of its mantra that they would be "for the many, not the few". You don't hear so much about that today but it is a worthy aspiration.

We cannot claim to be a national party if there are large parts of the nation that we do not seem to represent. Over the decades we have learned to adjust to the evolving character of our society. We have some further changes that we will need to make. There are too few black and Asian members. There are too few women in the parliamentary party. We have all accepted the case in principle for selecting more women and more from ethnic minorities for winnable constituencies. We have to be better at attracting and selecting people from the widest of backgrounds. No one likes the idea of central intervention, let alone anything so dirigiste as quotas.

In any event, our party has always contained its representative share of gays, including my late brother. A national party has to be serious about being inclusive and tolerant. Tolerance is not an optional addition to this party's values; it is an absolutely vital part of it which sustains us. Without that, and without the sense that we are a party for all the people, we make it more difficult for us to serve.

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