Senior Tories must look beyond Brexit and give a “broader push” to tackling injustices to win over voters, Justine Greening has said.
The ex-education secretary, who dramatically quit the cabinet in January, said it had been more than 30 years since her party had “connected with people’s aspirations”, as she urged Tory MPs to put improving social mobility at the top of the agenda.
Her comments will be seen as a veiled swipe against Theresa May, who vowed to tackle the “burning injustices” plaguing Britain in her first major speech on the steps of Downing Street.
Instead, Ms May’s premiership has been dominated by the mammoth task of delivering Brexit and poor progress to champion people from poorer backgrounds was laid bare when the board of the Social Mobility Commission resigned in protest.
Ms Greening told a Bright Blue thinktank event: “I think the key is having a much broader push from across cabinet on this issue because I’m afraid it does matter alongside Brexit.
“You can’t just do that, you have got to be thinking about the country you want to build beyond Brexit.”
Ms Greening, who supported the Remain campaign, said ministers should not allow Brexit to dominate their agenda and the referendum result had to act as a “catalyst for change”.
The Putney MP said: “It’s unacceptable that in Britain today where you start still so much shapes and determines your future.
“This party should be the first to want to challenge that, yet sometimes it does feel like we’ve been the last.
“I think we have to recognise as Conservatives that it has now been 31 years since this party last won an election with any kind of substantial majority.
“And I think that was the last time we were a party that really connected with people’s aspirations.”
Social mobility should become the party’s calling card to win over voters, as it struggles to compete against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s surge in popularity among young people, she said.
Ms Greening said: “There are some people out there who are happy with the status quo but I’m not, and I don’t think we should be.
“Because although it works for them – and I recognise that – it doesn’t work for the rest of our country any more, and with social media they can see that ever more starkly.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when it’s been easier to see inequality of opportunity and it’s crunched down people’s willingness to accept it.”
Ms Greening also called on employers to do more to help more disadvantaged candidates, by offering preferential treatment to people who achieve in tough circumstances over their more privileged peers.