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To rebuild their reputation the Conservatives need to take some bullets for ordinary people by taking on vested interests in public services. It’s hard to argue with the point former No 10 Adviser Sean Worth made at the launch of the Bright Blue Modernisers Manifesto on Wednesday.

The case was simple. Worth argued that there is still what Matthew Parris has called a “whiff” about the Conservative party – people do not trust its motives. Offering “simpering sympathy” for the poor isn’t working and the Conservatives needed to stand up and actually fight for people. The model for this was with the 80s, when the Conservatives fought and won major political battles in order to give people the right to buy shares and council houses.

The phrase “take a bullet for these people” seems to sum up the political and policy challenges facing the Conservatives, and reflects the fact that action would be more effective than talk. But it leads to an obvious issue: taking a bullet means taking damage. The Conservative party took a lot of bullets in the 80s and 90s, and this explains why we have a reputational problem now. What earns some people’s votes and respect also earns the lasting enmity of others.

It’s worth stepping back and thinking about just how many bullets the Conservatives took in the 80s. The Conservatives faced their natural enemies, the left-wing intelligentsia in the media and the arts, who shape much of popular culture. They also fought the workforce in nationalised industries, particularly the miners. Even this struggle involved the Conservative party taking a bullet: winning the fight protected the public from scourges like another 3-day week, but it was a grim and damaging business for all involved, undermining the reputation of the party. The Conservatives also reformed health and education, empowering the public but generating criticism from the representatives of these respected professions.

These conflicts are the best remembered but there were a lot of other struggles with vested interests. The Conservative governments broke up the television production duopoly, the telecoms and air travel monopolies, ended cartels amongst brewers and publishers, plus made football clubs go to all-seater stadiums. They even took on what Labour calls “their friends” in the City – the Big Bang of 1986 ended many restrictive practices and created losers amongst the spectacular new winners. Inevitably in all these changes the grudges of the losers outlast and outweigh the gratitude of the winners. Who last thanked Lady Thatcher for being able to buy cheap bestselling novels in Sainsbury’s? In short the Conservative governments made a lot of enemies, even where you might not think. Those people didn’t fire one bullet. They have been firing them for 30 years, providing the third-party endorsement of Labour’s critique which has so damaged the Conservative brand and leaves this whiff of distrust.

The Conservative party has tried to deal with this problem by finding the right leader. But looking for Henry V is fruitless. Effective Conservatives become Coriolanus, ineffective ones cartoon villains who talk loudly and carry a small stick.

The real dilemma is how many conflicts to get into and at what pace. The Coalition has rationed its struggles – although still made great gains in areas like education and welfare reform. Perhaps a masochism strategy is needed? Does the Conservative party need to carry out so many reforms, and invite so many bullets and wounds that the electorate will realise nobody does all that for abstract ideology, or rich friends? Will this show we do what we do because we mean it?

James Worron is a public affairs professional. His Twitter handle is @JamesWorron .