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Everyone agrees, to fight Jeremy Corbyn and engage younger voters the Conservative Party needs new ideas.

Recent months have seen a host of new think-tanks set up to try and provide them.

Onward, the ‘future-facing and campaigning’ think-tank, chaired by Daniel Finkelstein, has set out its stall as an ‘ideas factory’ to generate ‘new ideas for the next generation’. The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) new offshoot Freer aims to do similar by renewing what it calls the ‘timeless principles’ of free markets, free society, and free expression. These efforts, the work of Bright Blue, and recent publications from the Centre for Policy Studies, have been great at stimulating debate—not least about the proper size and role of the state.

Yet for all the talk of “freshness” and “modernising new waves”—they sometimes feels like a shampoo advert—there is something missing. The past. To paraphrase Philip Larkin, for these new groups, it is as if history began in 1979 sometime between Mrs. Thatcher’s election and The Cure’s first LP.

This historical amnesia is both ironic and tragic. Ironic because, as a recent poll by Sky Data and Demos demonstrated, it is young people who are most likely to say that life was better in the past. Tragic, because now more than ever history is what is needed to defeat Jeremy Corbyn.

Despite occasional references by Corbyn’s supporters to (supposedly) futuristic ideas like post-humanism and providing a universal basic income (which also has a long history), much of Corbyn’s appeal is nostalgic. Just look at Momentum’s faux 60s-mod typeface or the ‘what would Clem do?’ t-shirts worn by his supporters—the answer as Attlee’s most recent biographer John Bew pointed out was to create NATO, build the bomb, and use troops to break strikes.

Indeed, nowhere more is this nostalgic appeal more evident than in Corbyn’s appeal to students where the maintenance grants and free tuition of the 1970s are presented as part of a wider lost social democratic panacea. An argument that ignores the fact that only around one in ten young people went to university in the period and obscures much of the social and industrial misery (as well as racism and misogyny) of the era.

As Freers co-chairs, Luke Graham MP and Lee Rowley MP, rightly point out “a nation’s memory can fade, and ours has, to potentially disastrous effect.”

Thank goodness then for the recent CCHQ-led ‘Conservative History and Philosophy’ seminar. This brought together historians, political scientists, policymakers, and parliamentarians to think about how the Conservative Party had navigated similar periods of political flux and technological transformation.

The event saw everything from discussions of how the party built a mass membership in the 1900s through institutions like the Primrose League (whose attraction had much to do with its reputation for containing good ‘marriage material’) to how the power of TV, the disruptive media of the 1950s, was harnessed by Conservatives.

Past Conservative policies were also discussed such as the commitment in the 1970s manifesto to making 100% mortgages available as well as the Save As You Earn scheme. Two policies that stemmed from the Young Conservatives and came at a time when, as the historian Catherine Ellis has recently argued, the Party’s share of the vote went up more among those aged 25-34 than the general population.

Attendees agreed there was much they could learn from the past. Perhaps the most important lesson, however, is just how important the past once was to Conservatives.

Winston Churchill was not just a politician but also a nobel prize winning historian. His biography of John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, argued that Britain’s military success in the Spanish wars of succession had come via creating a grand European alliance, a point which informed his approach to appeasement.

Even Margaret Thatcher, not known as a historically minded PM, frequently invoked British history. Most often this was about the kind of values Britain had demonstrated during the Second World War. Her stark opposition to Communism, the IRA, and, most famously, Argentina’s seizure of the Falklands, were all couched in the language of Britain’s wartime fight for freedom and against tyranny. Likewise, when faced with criticism over unemployment in 1984, she argued her policies reflected the true lessons of the wartime ‘consensus’ that a high level of industrial efficiency was needed in order to support social spending—an argument contained in the 1944 Full Employment white paper, her original copy of which she claimed to still frequently read.

The Party’s most prolific and influential public historian was, however, Stanley Baldwin. Conservative leader between 1923 and 1937, Baldwin was the most successful politicians of the interwar period. During his tenure, the Conservatives governed either alone or as the dominant part of a coalition for all but three years.

As the historian Philip Williamson has comprehensively demonstrated, faced with a young fragile democracy and a rising and increasingly radical Labour Party, Baldwin constantly sought to educate voters about British history. In his almost conversational radio broadcasts as well as his almost ceaseless speaking tours, Baldwin reminded voters about Britain’s slow and evolutionary political development in contrast to the violent revolutions on the continent. This heritage, he argued, was one that those from all classes, regions, and religious denominations had helped make and now needed to protect. Along with his argument that Britain’s gentle but individualistic national character lay in its people’s link to the land, these emphases allowed Baldwin to construct a vision of the nation that appealed to many Conservative, Liberal (and indeed Labour) voters alike and which delegitimised the extremists of all parties.

Nor was Baldwin alone in this endeavour. Through the work of Ashridge College in Hertfordshire, activists were taught about Britain and the Empire’s historical, political, and economic development. At Ashridge, Conservatives from all sides of the Party were encouraged to come together and debate policy in historical rather than abstract terms. As Clarisse Berthezène brilliantly explored, passing through Ashridge became a must have for prospective parliamentary candidates as well as way in which Conservative’s came together to help shape a common story about Britain and its past. Ashridge’s success coming in part from its arms-length status from the Party, which ensured its activities were not seen as excessively ‘political’.

While much has changed since the 1930s, much feels familiar. A Socialist party is again on the rise with many of its positions out of the mainstream of British (and Labour) politics. Abroad, democracy once more appears fragile, with a growth in authoritarianism overseas. At home, new forms of industry and technology are changing the way we work and live—this time the gig economy and social media rather than mass production and the radio.

Just like Baldwin then, Conservatives would do well to look to the past and recognise the value of learning and speaking about British history. For it is through history that Conservatives can appeal to the young and insecure, can best debate their political opponents, and build again a shared sense of a national home that encompasses other identities.

In short, when thinking about the future it is a good idea to start by examining the past.

Dr Kit Kowol is an Associate Fellow of Bright Blue and an Early Career Development Fellow in Modern British History at King’s College London. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.