Conservatives will be in 'such a mess' if party fails to reform election strategy, says Eric Pickles

Former Tory party chairman identifies a 'clear campaigning deficiency' after post mortem into disastrous election result 

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Sunday 01 October 2017 20:40
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Eurosceptic Sir Eric Pickles has joined the pro-EU campaign
Eurosceptic Sir Eric Pickles has joined the pro-EU campaign

A former Conservative cabinet minister has said the party will be in “such a mess” if it fails to implement wide-ranging reforms to its election strategy.

Sir Eric Pickles called for the creation of a youth wing and a new manifesto committee to vet policies, after claims that Theresa May did not consult cabinet colleagues on key elements of her election document.

After conducting a post mortem into the disastrous election result, the former Tory party chairman revealed "a clear campaigning deficiency" in the party and the need for "a fundamental re-evaluation" of the way it runs campaigns.

Sir Eric, speaking at a fringe event on the first day of the annual Conservative conference, said: “We will be in such a mess if we don't push this through. We will be in such a mess."

He faced fury from party activists over the imposition of candidates from central office, election policies and tactics during the June campaign, with one member asking: "Why would any normal person become a member of the Conservative Party" if their opinions and expertise were ignored.

Graham Brady, who chairs the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, admitted that "for too many years, it sometimes felt like the Conservative Party didn't much like to have members and members of the party were treated as a bit of an inconvenience".

The report comes shortly after Mrs May admitted that the party was not ready for this year's snap election, which saw the Tories lose their Commons majority.

Sir Eric said the Tories need to prepare more effectively for future polls, proposing that ministers start drawing up a manifesto within 12 months of the last election.

A committee including the Prime Minister, Chancellor, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, party chairman and chief executive and Chief Whip would scrutinise the manifesto as well as up to three others appointed by the leader.

In response to the swing in young people's votes towards Labour at the June poll, the report calls for the creation of a "vibrant youth wing" in the Conservatives and says there must always be under-30 representation on the party board and on candidate selection panels.

Before any new policy is announced, there should be active consideration of its relevance to young people, Sir Eric found.

He also called for an increase in the number of candidates who are women or from diverse backgrounds, including ethnic minorities, admitting that the Conservatives have not done enough to engage with Britain's black and ethnic minority communities.

"At this election I felt the loss of our seats, along with colleagues I had worked with, very keenly," Sir Eric said.

"That has not blinded me into the delusion that one thing caused our setback.

"Many of the problems we encountered have been present at previous general elections, in some degree or another. I hope that this is a frank and unblinking look at our Party, which will set a series of reforms in motion."

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