A senior Conservative minister has warned that her party will lose the next election unless it starts making a clearer argument to voters on its values.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said the Tories must not fall into the trap of simply defending the status quo but must convince voters of the benefits of free enterprise if they want to take on Labour at the polls.
It comes as Theresa May faced intense pressure from both sides of her own party on her vision for Brexit and domestic policy, amid warnings of growing discontent among Tory donors.
Ms Truss said the Tories should reach out to young people who favour services like Uber and AirBnB, rather than believing that all voters under 30-years-old are “proto-Marxists or crypto-Communists” who support Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing ideas.
Speaking at a Policy Exchange event on free markets, Ms Truss said: “If we are in a position of defending the status quo, we are going to lose the argument.
“We won’t succeed in winning the next general election and the Labour Party has pitched the next general election very ideologically between the forces of planning and control, and the forces of free enterprise.”
She urged Tories to seize the opportunity to promote “intensely democratic” aspects of enterprise, describing start-up businesses such as vegan burger pop ups and vape shops are the “modern pioneers of British freedom”.
Ms Truss said: “We have to grasp that opportunity by not being defensive about our values, by being being positive about our values and what they mean, and absolutely delivering on those values.
“Where we do see evidence of rent-seeking or monopolistic behaviour or lack of transparency, we need to address that. That’s not the same as damning the whole system.”
The collapse of construction giant Carillion earlier this month “does not mean that every single public-private partnership that is run through since the 1980s has been a bad thing for this country,” she said.
The Tories could appeal to younger voters who are big users of services in the gig economy like Uber and Deliveroo, and room-letting site AirBnB – where Labour are seeking tighter regulations.
Mr Corbyn’s support among younger voters has caused concern in Tory circles, however the youth surge credited with helping the party defy electoral expectations last year has been discredited by academics.
Ms Truss said: “This idea that this group of under-30s who are somehow proto-Marxists, crypto-Communists, that they believe in collectivism and they all support Momentum.
“If you look at the desires and wishes of that generation, they are incredibly in favour of the gig economy, high users of things like Uber and AirBnB, and at the same time we have a Labour Party that is trying to close those things down – the very products, services and innovations that that generation love and rely on.
“That’s how we need to make the argument about free enterprise and what benefits it can have.”
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She went on: “Of course we need to defend some things, but as a party, as a Conservative one, we will be in a very bad position if we go into the election looking like we are the defenders of the status quo. We need to spell out how the future can be even better.”
Her comments come as Ms May is struggling to balance the different factions in her party after a weekend of savage infighting following Philip Hammond’s claims that post-Brexit changes would be “very modest”. The claims enraged Brexiteers who are afraid Ms May is preparing to deliver a Brexit “in name only”.
Former ministers Nick Boles and Robert Halfonalso teamed up with veteran MP Sir Nicholas Soames for an attack on Ms May’s domestic agenda, in a joint article demanding bold action to help “hard-working families”.
However International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who is accompanying Ms May on a trip to China, urged his warring colleagues to back the Prime Minister rather then triggering a leadership contest.