Speaking at the Ramsdell Summer Supper, Sir George outlined the progress the Conservative Party had made over the past year.
"12 months ago, at time of the Ramsdell Supper, we were in the middle of a Leadership election. We had just completed Round 1 (with MP’s voting) and were on verge of Round 2 (with the Membership voting.
On his election, IDS’s first task was to settle the party down. We had had 3 leaders in 12 years, after one for 15. He decided to focus on what we agree about and not on what we disagree about. He therefore “parked” the European issue. When the time comes for a debate on the Euro, the Party will be against Euro entry. Those who want to join will be free to say so and won’t be harassed, but the Party will be against.
Then he focussed on the issues people really mind about - otherwise people might simply think we were irrelevant. Then he began to change the public perception of the party – too many people saw us as "the nasty party." He reconnected the party culturally – recognising that families come in many different forms; that not every stable relationship is a married one and that people are entitled to have different lifestyles - for example if they are gay. To-day's Tory Party has to understand that society has changed.
Then he reconnected politically, talking about state schools, not just public schools, the NHS and not BUPA.
We have also developed what I call the Letwin strategy. Don’t attack on all fronts. If you concede that the Government have done something right, people will listen if you go on to say they have done something wrong.
We now have a well-managed party – with very few rows.
We are working up themes. Centralisation does not work. Spin is becoming distrusted. There is an appetite for honesty in politics. There is resistance to regionalism.
It is disappointing that we have not broken through in the polls yet, but we are round about 35%, with Labour around 40%. This is much closer than we have been for some time.
The next stage is to convert the themes into hard policies - on education, health and law and order. If we can do that, we could be in Government in three years time.