As a former minister, I have seven lessons for the Tories if we want to regain power | Damian Green

It is a comforting myth that the darkest hour comes just before dawn. The real darkness descends the morning after when you realise that everything has changed. Wisdom lies in acknowledging the new situation and starting to adapt to it.

For the Conservative party, this change will be difficult. Here are seven rules to follow, given in a helpful spirit by one newly outside the parliamentary tent.

First, after the initial flurry of post-election interest no one will care what you say. The new government will be infinitely fascinating so don’t worry if the media and public ignore you. Electing a new leader will make you interesting for a time, but only do this once. Take time over this decision, because some of us remember that the last time we did this we went through three leaders before we happened on one who brought us back to power.

Second, learn from what actually happened last week, not what you are told happened by those with an axe to grind. As an example, look at the polling evidence which shows that only 36% of Reform voters say they would have voted Conservative if Reform had not stood. Simplistic solutions which involve adding the Reform vote to the Tory vote and saying “Look, there is a rightwing majority here” are delusional.

Third, even worse is the “solution” of inviting Nigel Farage into the Conservative party. For every vote this would add it would lose at least one. Ed Davey has had enough fun over the past month without the Conservative party giving him millions of voters for free. Those who advocate this, and there are many commentators in the Telegraph/GB News/Spectator axis who do, are doing so because they basically support Reform policies. Read the Reform manifesto, which promises tax cuts and spending increases in a spectacularly irresponsible way and remind yourself that this is absolutely not a Conservative prospectus.

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Fourth, reject any attempt to narrow the party’s appeal so that it only aims at “real Conservatives”. At a personal level I resent this attempt to say that moderate one nation Conservatives like me are lesser Conservatives than say, David Frost, who promulgates this idea frequently. I have fought nine general elections in the Conservative cause so I think I have earned my party membership card. More importantly, saying to millions of potential Conservative voters that they are not Conservative enough is weapons-grade idiocy in a first past the post electoral system. If the Conservative party starts becoming ideologically exclusive it will wither and die.

Fifth, recognise that to demonstrate fitness to govern again is difficult for an opposition party that lost because the public thought that it had lost the ability to solve everyday problems. On Ashford doorsteps at the election there was indeed a lot of anxiety about the NHS and immigration, but just as much rage about potholes. So we will need to show basic competence as a party organisation, which in the end is all that the new leader can demonstrate in practice — the rest is rhetoric. Be united in public whatever arguments rage in private. Don’t leak private meetings for your own purposes. If you do you are condemned to a lifetime sitting around the shadow cabinet table, and the fun of that wears off pretty quickly.

Sixth, start fighting the next election not the last one. Use the existing thinktanks and set up new ones to deal with the issues that we do not yet know about but will dominate politics as the decade wears on. Be relentlessly intellectually curious. There are immutable Conservative principles but they need constantly to be moulded for new generations.

Finally, start listening to the priorities of young people. The biggest underlying failure of recent years has been always to shy away from decisions which would help the young in case they would annoy older voters. The vast majority of those older voters know that their children or grandchildren are struggling and want them to be helped.

Opposition is a difficult grind. It is necessary to get it right in every detail before the public will trust us again, and we need to begin immediately.

Damian Green is a former Conservative minister who lost his seat on Thursday

The Guardian

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