The Conservatives need to continually modernise and inspire people, to avoid just being seen as the “economics party”, David Cameron has said.
The ex-prime minister his party must always look to the future and ask itself if it was in touch with society as it changed.
Mr Cameron, who is writing his memoirs, said he remained fascinated by politics but would not be returning to the pitch to “kick the ball around”.
He led the party between 2005 and 2016.
After quitting Downing Street last year in the wake of the EU referendum, Mr Cameron has kept a low political profile, undertaking speaking engagements around the world and focusing on his work as patron of the National Citizens Service and president of the Alzheimer’s Research UK.
The Standard, now edited by Mr Cameron’s former chancellor and right-hand man George Osborne, has billed this as the former leader’s first interview since the general election.
In it, Mr Cameron made clear the direction in which he believed the party should be heading after losing its overall majority in June.
“It is very important that the Conservative Party does not slip backwards,” he said. “The Conservative Party only succeeds if it is the party of the future.”
‘Open and tolerant’
Mr Cameron, who was associated with “detoxifying” the party after three successive election defeats before taking it back into government in 2010, warned modernisation was a “process not an event” and the party must be continually challenging itself.
“A political party should be asking itself all the time ‘am I properly in touch with and reflecting the society and country?’.
“I want us to go on being the open, liberal, tolerant party that we became post-2005 because I think that was part of our success”
“The reason why I wanted to lead the Conservative Party back in 2005 was that I wanted us to be more than ‘the economics party’, more than just free marketeers with the rough edges knocked off.”
Asked if the Conservatives were struggling to match the “idealism” on offer from Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Cameron suggested people had “forgotten” how “dangerous” the kind of programme that Labour put forward at the last election would turn out to be in practice.
He added: “You don’t win the argument in favour of free enterprise, free markets, choice and liberal democracy and then pack up and go home. You have to win the argument in every generation.
“We on the centre-right side of the argument have to have just as inspiring a vision – a more inspiring vision – of how you build not just a strong economy but a strong society and better life.”
Mr Cameron led his party to victory in 2015, after five years in coalition with the Lib Dems, but was on the losing side of the EU referendum, which he called.
He said getting on with his life outside politics and writing his autobiography was proving a “cathartic” process.
He said he did not hanker after a return to the limelight. “When you leave office, you sort of know you can’t run back on the pitch and give the ball a kick.
“Well, you can but it is not a sensible thing to do.”
Amid reports of an outbreak of cabinet infighting over Brexit, Mr Cameron was asked if there were any of his former colleagues who should be sent on a National Citizen Service course, which can involve outdoor team-building activities for 16 and 17-year-olds.
He replied: “If it involved crossing a very, very dangerous river on a raft, I can think of a few I’d want to strap together.”