Battle for the heart of the Tories

On one side is the 40 Group; on the other is Renewal and both hope to head off the threat from the UK Independent Party by co-opting Ukip attitudes

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The internal struggles of the Conservative Party grow ever more intense. On one side is the 40 Group, which published policy proposals yesterday that included a plan for teenage mothers to be denied housing benefit and required to live either with their parents or in specially run hostels. On the other is Renewal, an all-new pressure group, to be launched today, which aims to enhance the Tories’ appeal to working-class voters with policies such as raising the national minimum wage and railing against “rip-offs”.

Of the two, it is Renewal that has the better ideas. The group has been formed with the goal of extending the party’s support not just among the self-identifying working class, but in the North, in the public sector and among ethnic minorities. The instinct is a healthy one and should be encouraged.

Meanwhile, the 40 Group – made up of Tory MPs in the 40 most marginal seats – might be expected to have a narrower outlook, focused on strengthening the base secured in 2010 rather than extending it to new voters. In fairness, however, it is rather more than that. Indeed, it has a so-called 40/40 strategy looking at what it would take, not just to defend the most marginal Tory constituencies but also to snatch the 40 most winnable seats held by other parties.

We should also acknowledge that the teenage mothers policy – which rightly attracted much negative attention yesterday – is only one of 40 ideas proposed by the group. Many of its other suggestions are more akin to those espoused by Renewal, such as moving more civil servants out of the South-east and cutting pension contribution relief for higher-rate taxpayers.

There is a distinct whiff of appeasement emanating from both camps, however. Both hope to head off the threat from the UK Independence Party by co-opting Ukip attitudes into the Conservative platform for 2015.

In fact, there is no future for the Tories or for any other party in glamorising a backward-looking, fantasy-island version of English life, complete with its romanticised, insular – even slightly racist – working class. That is not the Britain of today, and even less like what it will be in 2020, which is the sunlit upland to which our leaders should be looking.

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