The Conservatives must project three messages beyond the conference hall

The Conservative Party conference presents an unique opportunity to send a message about what the party stands for and the political direction of the country.

The Conservatives must project three messages beyond the conference hall, argues Malcolm Gooderham (pic credit: James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock)
The Conservatives must project three messages beyond the conference hall, argues Malcolm Gooderham (pic credit: James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock)
Speeches and images from Birmingham can either challenge stereotypes, or confirm them.

Mrs May seems intent upon challenging them, notably the nagging (mis)perception: that the Conservative Party is for the few, not for the many, whilst confirming it is the party of sound money and tough choices. 

The core message of May's premiership adorns the walls and platforms of the 2016 party conference in Birmingham: A country that works for everyone.

The leadership now seems intent on pursuing - although not necessarily acknowledging - the course Osborne plotted for the Conservatives. 

This is to remake the party as the natural home for hard-working voters and position Labour as the natural home of the Left-wing metropolitan elite. 

This is a bold and politically astute strategy. 

For many, this will be easier for team May than team Cameron and they are taking few prisoners on their path to reposition the party.

However, the party will not be successful through words alone, but through the actions and policies of their MPs. 

So the party will need to do three things, starting this week. 

First, launch iconic policies and smart initiatives that connect with key voters - at an emotional and rational level - and project the right message. 

Such announcements cannot simply be counter-intuitive; but rather, need to tell a coherent and politically credible narrative. 

Second, stop Conservative MPs saying and doing things in such a way that will undo the efforts to show the party in Government is working for the good of the whole country.  

Some policy decisions will be tough and politically sensitive, so careful consideration needs to be given as to setting the political context (e.g. pre-suasion), managing the communication and generating advocacy for tricky, but necessary policy decision-making.

Third, contain the Brexit conversation and not be defined by it.  

The terms of Brexit, rather than the referendum, could hijack the focus of Tory MPs and therefore threaten the hard work of the leadership to build this progressive, compelling narrative.  

If May's message is hijacked by Brexiteers, it would leave the Tory Party looking obsessed with the EU defining the Party and factions within it - so 'soft' and 'hard' Brexiteer become defining terms in a similar way to ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ in the 1980s.

The party conference planners neatly managed Brexit matters by turning over Sunday to the subject, allowing cabinet members and the Prime Minister an opportunity to focus on their messages in their keynote speeches this week. 

More clever policy, party and message management will be required over the course of this parliament to ensure the perception of the party, at the next General Election, is one which is committed to the whole country and not the politics of Brexit.

Malcolm Gooderham is a founder of Montfort Communications

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