Conservative conference: Voters believe the Tories do not 'understand modern Britain', party chairman admits

'Many in our country today feel we have lost sight of many of the issues that are of greatest concern to them'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 30 September 2018 18:42
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Voters believe the Tories have 'lost sight' of what modern Britain is, admits party chairman Brandon Lewis

Voters believe the Conservatives do not “understand modern Britain”, the party chairman has admitted, in a frank call for it to change.

Opening the conference in Birmingham, Brandon Lewis said the Tories “need to be honest with ourselves” that “many” people still believe they are out of touch.

Mr Lewis said Britain was becoming more “diverse”, with young people putting issues such as gender equality and equal opportunity “at the very top of the agenda”.

“Many in our country today feel we have lost sight of many of the issues that are of greatest concern to them – they are not hearing what we have to say,” he told the Tory faithful.

Mr Lewis said it was not enough to “talk about opportunity for all”, adding: “We must act on it. It’s the right thing to do, but it also matters because if we don’t, we face an uncertain and – let’s be frank – an uncomfortable future.

“Our country is changing – becoming more diverse. Young people are increasingly politically active, inspired by social media, the referendum and political campaigns.

“New movements are emerging – putting issues like gender equality, fair treatment and equal opportunity at the very top of the agenda.

Mr Lewis argued the Conservatives had “a proud record”, pointing to same-sex marriage and reforms to stop-and-search, but warned: “If we are honest, it hasn’t done enough to change the perception some people have of our party today.

“So we must do far, far more to show that we understand and reflect modern Britain. That means building a party that is really fit for the future.”

The chairman praised “our brilliant prime minister Theresa May”, but the warning will be seen as coded criticism of a failure to deliver on the pledges of social change, made when she entered No 10 two years ago.

The prime minister failed to kickstart the conference with a major new policy – adding to Tory fears that their party is failing to keep pace with Jeremy Corbyn’s radical agenda.

Instead, the conference seems certain to be dominated by the Conservative civil war over Brexit, after the EU threw out the Chequers proposals.

Mr Lewis said he had “set an ambition to ensure 50 per cent of the people on our candidates’ list are women, with a plan to make it happen”.

But he admitted: “Our greatest challenge still lies ahead: winning more support from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

“I don’t underestimate the size of this task. Our vote among ethnic minority voters is stalling. Yet we can be their natural home.”

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