David Cameron has warned the Conservatives not to slip backwards as Theresa May’s leadership descends into infighting over the future of the party.
The former prime minister suggested the Tories needed to push more of an idealistic and inspiring vision for the country, after May lost her majority in the June general election following a surge in support for Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.
“We on the centre right side of the argument have to have just as inspiring a vision, a more inspiring vision, of how you build not just a strong economy but a strong society and a better life,” he told the newspaper.
Asked why young people were associating idealism with Corbyn’s Labour and not the Conservatives, he said: “I think we need to push it more.”
Cameron took the Conservatives on a path of “modernisation” towards embracing social change such as gay marriage and tackling climate change, after he won the leadership contest against David Davis in 2005.
With Davis now the Brexit secretary and tipped as a potential future leader once again, Cameron suggested it would be a mistake for the party to forget the lessons it learned when in opposition in the 2000s.
“It is very important that the Conservative party doesn’t slip backwards,” he said. “The Conservative party only succeeds if it is a party of the future.
“Modernisation isn’t an event. It is a process. A political party should be asking itself all the time, ‘Am I properly in touch with and reflecting the society and the country?’
“I want us to go on being the open, liberal, tolerant party that we became post 2005, because I think that was part of our success.”
Cameron also betrayed his feelings towards some former cabinet colleagues when he was asked if there were any who should be sent on a course with the National Citizen Service, the initiative he founded and chairs. “If it involved crossing a very, very dangerous river on a raft, I can think of a few I’d want to strap together,” he said.
The former prime minister suggested the Tories’ failure to make an economic argument during the election meant voters had “forgotten just how dangerous this full-on programme of nationalisation, state control and rampantly high taxes can be”.
“You don’t win the argument in favour of free enterprise, free markets, choice and liberal democracy and then pack up and go home,” Cameron said. “You have to win the argument in every generation.
“The reason I wanted to lead the Conservative party back in 2005 was that I wanted us to be more than ‘the economics party’, more than just free marketeers with the rough edges knocked off.
“I wanted us to have a genuinely inspiring vision about what a great country and what a great society we could be. I think that’s still very true today.”
Asked if the Conservatives were seen as anti-urban, he said: “I hope not. I think it was depressing that we lost some seats in metropolitan areas and in London.”