If Tories do not heed lessons from the past they will not have a future

Watching the Conservative Party risk tearing itself apart over Europe is sadly nothing new. But the fault lines on Europe are not unique to our party, the political divisions cross party lines and split families and friends.

That is why it was right to hand the decision on our future relationship with Europe to a referendum, and why it is right that the government delivers on that mandate by returning sovereignty to Westminster and the devolved administrations, whilst taking take control of our borders, laws and money from Brussels.

The final shape of that future relationship must respect those red lines.

As the prime minister finds herself between a rock and a hard place over the Chequers deal, it is incumbent on our party to hold together and get behind it. For we must remember that this is the start of a negotiation process, not the end. In uncoupling from the EU we must put pragmatism ahead of ideology. The deal may not be perfect, but it does at least provide a basis for negotiation, and it is only in unifying that we will secure the best deal for the country.

The Tory Reform Group is the largest membership group within the Conservative Party with four decades of history behind us. Over those 40 years we’ve helped shape the party and encouraged reform that keeps us relevant to modern Britain. Our strength has been in recognising the Conservative Party is successful because it is a broad church.

A party that can hold both Jacob Rees-Mogg and Anna Soubry together is stronger because of that breadth. Our ability to form governments is based on keeping that broad church under one roof to win elections.

The word Reform in our name is the important one. We recognise that for the party to remain relevant we must continually reform. Not least, as our economy changes, and the nature of work and employment changes, it is incumbent on the Conservatives to respond.

Our party is among the most successful in the world because throughout its near 200-year history we have adapted and rejuvenated ourselves, as we have done with our country whilst in government. It is when we lose focus that we find ourselves out of ideas and out of power.

With Conservative MPs shortly packing their bags to head for cooler climes this recess, their summer reading choices should steer away from the latest page-turner and instead they should brush up on their recent history. If we fail to learn the lessons of the past, our party will not have a future.

Like its MPs, the party’s members and activists are an equally broad church. But we are united by our common values and should be focused on the very real prospect of a Corbyn government if we fail to hold together.

Our battle is against a hard-left Labour Party, seeking to turn back the clock and destroy the reforms and economic progress made under not only Cameron, but also Major, Thatcher and Heath alike. The real political battle of our time is far greater than the one currently playing out in Westminster.

With Labour running us neck-and-neck in the polls for over 12 months since the election last June, the focus for all Conservatives must be on how we defeat Corbyn’s Labour Party and consign 1970s socialism to the history books once and for all. A challenge that is made far harder if our efforts and energies are focused on what divides us rather than the values which unite.

To win the next election, we need to unify around a pragmatic Brexit. However, and perhaps more importantly, we must have a domestic offer to voters that goes beyond our relationship with one neighbour. We must show how a Conservative government can reform itself and our country in a way that improves the daily lives of the people we are elected to serve. The assumption that getting the right Brexit deal alone can deliver a Conservative majority at the next election demonstrates a reckless failure to learn the lessons of 2017.

For the Conservatives to stay relevant we must be more than just a Brexit party; to defeat Corbyn, we must also demonstrate that we are on the side of working people and have the ideas and energy to deliver for them. As the champions of Global Britain, we must define why an international, open, competitive economy is the right one for our country.

So, with summer holidays fast approaching, it is time to pull together. For like all families, we may occasionally find ourselves bickering over how we are getting to the airport or the right way to build a sand castle, but we should take a moment to remember that we are united by common values and a desire to do the right thing by our country; and consider whatever compromise we have to make — the alternative of a Corbyn government will ultimately ruin more than a family holiday.

This article was first published exclusively by Times Red Box.