The text of Sir John Major’s article for Reformer Magazine, published in October 2005.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
For a while in the 1990s it seemed as if the Conservative Party might split. Such an outcome was always my nightmare as Prime Minister when the factions fighting over Europe created such bitter divisions: the dissenters utterly ignored the wider issues that have always united Conservatives and, as a result, we presented an unattractive spectacle to the electorate. That time – thankfully – has gone and UKIP has been spawned now as the natural home for irreconcilable euro-phobes.
Brighter times lie ahead. The new intake has talent. The leadership contenders are contributing thoughtful policy ideas for the future. The Party seems finally to understand how far it drifted from mainstream opinion. These are the pre-conditions for electoral success.
Of course, the Party must continue to change. It always has done – there is nothing new about that. But, as it adapts, it should not – and must not – throw away the core of its instincts: to do so would make it as conviction-free as New Labour. Nor should the differing priorities of “modernisers” and “traditionalists” disturb us. Both subscribe to the core tenets of Conservatism and have ideas to make it more relevant to the future. We should examine them all and adopt the best.
As I read the policy ambitions of the putative Leaders I am broadly confident that whoever wins will be able to devise an attractive policy agenda – but there are a number of further changes that will add immeasurably to our attraction as a Government-in-waiting.
Our representation in the Commons is still too narrowly based: it does not yet reflect the infinite variety of our national composition. We should try and make it do so. Similarly, the new Shadow Cabinet will need to include talent from all shades of opinion in the Party – and I hope none of the senior figures will decline to serve.
It is vital, too, that our tone of voice should be more generous, more inclusive, more willing to recognise disparate points of view even if we disagree with them. The arrogant assumption there is only one way, one view and it is ours, is deeply unattractive and a real vote loser.
Finally, I hope our new Leader will set out a menu of the really difficult long-term issues that face us: pensions; the inadequacy of education; the relationship with Scotland; our role in the world – and address them. He or she should do so after consultation with specialists inside and outside the Party – listening to all points of view is a strength, not a weakness – and then, in a series of reflective speeches, explain the kind of country we wish to create.
An exciting time lies ahead for our Party: I wish our new Leader every success.