“There's a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us - the nasty party.”

A stark warning to the UK Conservative Party faithful by its first female chairman, Theresa May. Twenty years ago, the Tories received that wake-up call. The Liberal Party must heed this message today.

While it took another election loss before the Conservatives embarked on the change May outlined, with David Cameron as leader, I’m afraid the Liberal Party doesn’t have the same luxury of time in the era of social media, 24-hour news and populist pop-up parties.

In too many Australians’ eyes we are facing our nasty party moment. We’ve just seen an election dominated by coarse debates about trans kids, the safety and agency of women, climate denialism and integrity in politics.

These are issues where Liberals and liberal values can stand tall and on the right side of history. But instead, we retreated into our cave.

Back then, May warned the Tories that they could not “merely [represent] some mythical place called "Middle England"… as our country has become more diverse, our party has remained the same.”

And so, David Cameron set about “changing the face of the Conservative Party” – as he put it – and won the Tories government, one still in power today under Boris Johnson.

Cameron’s A-list worked to proactively find candidates that could both win elections and help a future Conservative government succeed. It’s a process that gave the Tories Liz Truss, Priti Patel and Zac Goldsmith.

While the A-list process – like Labor’s quota – isn’t entirely compatible with our grassroots pre-selections, it’s something that we can adapt. 

Whether our version of this process gives candidates an increased vote weighting or perhaps in target seats we say to members that they must choose a candidate from this list – it doesn’t matter. What matters is whether the Liberal Party’s answer to this question is ‘yes’: do we need to find different, diverse candidates to win? If we have that will, we’ll find a way.

Cameron’s reforms weren’t limited to the candidates being selected. All of a sudden, the Tories were leading on issues of the environment and climate, LGBT rights, civil liberties and equality for women. And they won.
They didn’t chase these policies despite conservative values. They embraced them because they had conservative values.

I’m working to save my party, and I know many good-hearted Liberals are doing the same. 

I’m confident new Liberal leader Peter Dutton will forge the right path – in his pitch for the leadership he articulated a liberal vision that has been missing for some years now. 

“We aren’t the Moderate Party. We aren’t the Conservative Party. We are Liberals. We are the Liberal Party,” he said. “We believe in families - whatever their composition. Small and micro businesses. For aspirational hard working ‘forgotten people’ across the cities, suburbs, regions and in the bush.”

Peter can lead, but we need our party to follow.

One last warning from Mrs May in Bournemouth, 2002.

“Our party is at its best when it takes Conservative principles and applies them to the modern world. It is at its worst when it tries to recreate a bygone age. We cannot bring back the past. “

We cannot bring back the past.

So, what is the future of the Liberal Party?

Our members. A membership reflective of modern Australia, broad-based and focused on the interests of all Australians and welcoming of all to join.

Nelson Savanh is the federal vice president of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia