Theresa May must reject the “reactionary tendencies” of her more right-wing MPs, the Conservative Party’s vice-chairman for policy has warned.
Chris Skidmore said Brexit should not give “carte blanche” to the right of the party to impose “hardline ideas” or “extremist” policies on the country.
The 36-year-old Kingswood MP said on Wednesday evening “ruthless” team around Jeremy Corbyn was a serious threat and the Tories had to return to the “optimistic” approach of David Cameron.
Skidmore was appointed one of 13 new vice-chairmen of the Conservative Party by the prime minister as part of her January reshuffle.
He has been tasked with developing party policy in the run up to 2022 in the wake of May’s disastrous 2017 snap general election result.
“We’ve got to be cautionary about how we approach Brexit if that’s going to allow a certain faction in the party to dominate in the future,” Skidmore told an event in Westminster hosted by the conservative Centre for Policy Studies think-tank.
“Once Brexit’s happened there will be further divisions within the Conservative Party.”
“While we are leaving the EU, it doesn’t give everyone a carte blanche to suddenly come up with hardline ideas.”
Addressing the popularity of Corbyn, Skidmore said: “The worst thing we can do is to look at revolutionary populism and to replace it with reactionary populism.
“There are tendencies in the Conservative Party that would push the other way and it’s our responsibility and as active members of the Conservative Party, as members of the centre-right, being in the middle, holding that centre ground is hard, but we have a responsibility to be able to not listen to those siren calls on either side of the debate.
“If we see Brexit as simply being some Brexit that’s going to lead to an extremist approach to all other policy making, there is a real crossroads here when to comes to looking at the future of the Conservative Party.”
Asked about Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leading backbench Tory Brexiteer, Skidmore said having “authenticity” was not enough.
“There clearly is populist appeal to those people who say what they think and hopefully I am saying what I think tonight,” he said.
“You’ve still got that responsibility to spend taxpayers money wisely to deliver for the poorest in society, to stand there in government saying what we are going to do for the whole country rather than a certain segment of the country.”
“We not only need to explain the risks of what socialism involves, but we need to make sure as a party we set out a positive program for the future of government that also involves making sure we don’t revert to reactionary tendencies of the right, that we tack to the mainstream.”
Skidmore, who backed the ‘Remain’ campaign at the referendum, said he “never went into politics to bang on about Europe”.
“For those people who think about politics for four minutes a week, Brexit is done and dusted, the risk we face as a Conservative Party is certain members of the party are always on TV talking about this process,” he said.
Skidmore, who was first elected to parliament in 2010, said the party needed to “get back to that positive and optimistic feeling that I remember when I got involved in politics in my mid-20s” when David Cameron was party leader.
“Cameron was such a breath of fresh air because we were listening. And we were not only listening to party members, we were listening to groups in society we hadn’t listed to in the long time and it felt a great time to be a Conservative.”
He said the Tories needed to be a “modern, dynamic” party that was “not just talking about Brexit”.
“The game has changed. We were complacent. We thought were going to win that election hands down,” he said.
“We can’t carry on thinking that somehow Corbyn isn’t a threat and the operation that is under Corbyn is incredibly ruthless and they know what they are doing and we need to match that.”
“We’ve got to understand why people think that that agenda is something they want to vote for.”
He added: “We have lost ground. The junior doctors contract, that had quite devastating effect on our vote in 2017 - particularly among certain ethnic populations.”