Leading article: An idea that the right needs to get behind

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The Independent Online

The party conference season is almost upon us, and with it the temptation for politicians to ignore the country at large and speak the language that the party faithful understand. With hundreds of Conservative Party representatives due to converge on Manchester early next month, their influence can be felt already in the growing clamour from backbench Tories to rewrite the terms of UK relations with the rest of Europe, to end immigration, to abolish the 50p tax rate for the highest paid, and to show the Liberal Democrats, once and for all, who is running the Government.

In this febrile atmosphere, it is either brave or rash of the minister responsible for immigration policy, Damian Green, to go to Yorkshire and deliver a homily on the virtues of One-Nation Conservatism.

This is a venerable strand of Tory politics that originated with Benjamin Disraeli and was practised by Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath, among others, but which faded in the 1970s. The first faint sign that it might be back was when David Cameron embarked on his mission to give his party a human face.

The hard fact is that politically it is not one nation. The Conservatives dominate the political landscape across most of the populous and wealthy south of England, but there are large areas further north where the party barely exists.

There will be no local Conservative councillors to greet them on arrival in Manchester because its city council is one of several big Tory-free authorities in the north. In Scotland, the Conservative brand is so damaged that one of the candidates in the contest to elect a new leader has proposed that the Scottish party change its name.

For the Conservatives to become a truly national party again would require a very long, very frustrating uphill climb. Many of the representatives from the southern heartlands frankly do not think it is worth it. It is their choice, but it would be a foolish one.

It would be better for the party's long-term health – and better for the unity of the UK – if they do as Mr Green urges and venture out of their "comfort zone", ideologically and geographically.