Before the election there was an idea doing the rounds that the big beasts in the Cabinet were exhausted, having punched each other to a standstill following the Leave victory, and that the next generation of thoughtful MPs were fizzing with ideas and measuring the ministerial curtains.
New MP Tom Tugendhat’s crisp military organisation unseated the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and George Freeman, May’s overlooked Chair of the Conservative Policy Board, was grappling with transformative technologies and the role of the state at the same time as organising festivals of ideas.
The now infamous WhatsApp groups were bubbling, not quite with regicide, but certainly with an understanding of the need to reconnect with younger voters just as Cameron and Osborne had done a decade previously.
Instead, less than four months since the election, they find themselves trapped in a Party that Laura Kuenssberg, BBC Political Editor, suggested might be “dying from within”.
A deadlocked Brexit process has followed the loss of the Prime Minister’s parliamentary majority as a result of what one senior backbencher described as “the worst election campaign in living memory”. A former Chancellor has called the Philip Hammond a “Saboteur” while the Foreign Secretary is in open rebellion because the PM is too weak to sack him and the PM, herself, has shown, at Grenfell and during her conference speech that she simply doesn’t have the skills or authority which the public have come to expect from our leaders.
In addition the scale of the amendments tabled from the PM’s on own side call into question whether or not she will actually be able to get the EU (Withdrawal) Bill through Parliament.
Forced onto the back foot by a resurgent Labour the Tories find themselves rehearsing the arguments for Conservatism – self-reliance, market economy, personal responsibility and low state intervention – which they thought had been put to bed once and for all in 1994 after the election of Tony Blair as leader of the Labour Party.
Conversely, several of Labour’s manifesto promises such as capping energy prices and building council houses have crept into the Conservative programme for Government leaving many wondering whether the Conservative Party stands for anything other than simply getting through Brexit.
Other flagship Labour policies, such as nationalising the railways and ending tuition fees, are overwhelmingly popular with the public while age, not class, has become the new political dividing line, leaving the Conservatives looking like being on the wrong side of history when even the IMF is advocating higher taxes for the wealthy.
So what is the task facing the next generation of Conservative leaders? Putting the issue of Europe to one side for a moment they have to start from scratch and make the case for capitalism after seven years of austerity and in an era when Amazon pays less in tax than the average voter. A big ask, but it can be done by joining the dots in the minds of voters with technology, change and the connected world we live in now.
Secondly, they have to reconcile the warring factions and find a leadership candidate acceptable to both sides on the fractious issue of Europe which has now seen off every Conservative leader since Thatcher.
Thirdly, they have to engage with the youth vote which, according to YouGov, is now everyone under 47 for the Tories. At the last election Labour was 47% ahead amongst first time voters with the Conservatives 50% ahead amongst those over 70. You don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to work out that time is not on their side.
For a Party once dubbed the most successful electoral machine in history apart from the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China, we may well be at a decisive moment.