In the opening speech in the main conference hall, Brandon Lewis,the party chairman, told delegates that the UK was changing quickly, with the Conservatives at risk of being left behind.
In a long section devoted to party modernisation, Lewis cited the Tories record in areas such as equal marriage and reforming police use of stop-and-search tactics.
This was a proud record, he said, adding: But if we are honest, it hasnt done enough to change the perception some people have of our party today.
Read more Earlier, an event on the conference fringe discussing how the Conservatives can gain more younger voters heard from a series of backbenchers, all of whom urged swift action.
Neil OBrien, who became MP for Harborough last year, noted that in the 2017 election there was a massive deficit between the Tories and Labour in terms of younger voters, and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.
At the 2015 election, OBrien said, the Tories lagged two percentage points behind Labour for voters in their 20s, and by four percentage points for those aged 18-24. Just two years later these deficits had shot up to 26 and 40 points behind.
The party was also doing increasingly less well among other groups whose numbers were rising, such as those with degrees, people who were unmarried, and those who rented their homes or live in cities, said OBrien, a former director of the Policy Exchange thinktank.
Read more All these different social bases of Conservatism are being eroded, he said. Either we have to do much better amongst these groups of people, or were going to go out of business as a political party.
Such structural changes would have an impact, he added: Its a bit like a beam that is rotting away, and eventually it snaps.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest The prime minister, Theresa May, at the Conservative party conference. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian Another leading reformer, George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk who formerly chaired Theresa Mays policy unit, said the differences in how people of various ages voted was key for the partys future.
He said: It isnt just about, can we get more new people in the Conservative party, it is the dividing line in politics. And I think were on the wrong side of it. Its not too late to get on the right side of it, but it wont just happen.
While in 2010, just 28% of female voters under 25 voted Labour, by 2017 this had risen to 73%, Freeman said: We have a real problem, a massive problem. We have a demographic, structural and economic crisis in our political support base, and its getting worse, just with the passing of time.
Read more Solutions for the party raised at the event included radical changes to the housing market, a cut in interest rates for student debt, and an attempt to become less tribal over Brexit.
0:50 Lets come together and get best deal for this country, May tells Tories on Brexit – video The way Brexit was being debated in the party risked putting young people off the Tories for good, Freeman said. That religious zealotry, I think, is completely weird to a generation under 45, and I fear will lead us to Jeremy Corbyn having the keys to post-Brexit Britain.
At yet another event the former education secretary Justine Greening urged a new focus on social mobility, calling it an existential challenge for our party.
It was, she noted at a fringe speech, 31 years since the party last won a significant Commons majority, under Margaret Thatcher in 1987.
It is 31 years since we last truly carried the political argument in this country, she said. It means we stopped connecting with people a long time ago.
Dominic Grieve (file image), the former minister who rallied rebels to inflict a defeat on Brexit laws last year, warned there would be a polite rebellion from pro-EU Tories
Tory Remain rebels today demanded a second referendum on Brexit – and floated the idea of a government of national unity to call it.
Dominic Grieve, the former minister who rallied rebels to inflict a defeat on Brexit laws last year, warned there would be a polite rebellion from pro-EU Tories.
He said today there were now a significant number of Conservative MPs prepared to back a new referendum for the first time.
And he suggested that if Mrs May will not agree to hold another national vote, a cross-party alliance could seize power and force one.
The pro-EU revolt comes as Brexiteers prepare to use the Tory conference inBirmingham to step up their assault on Mrs Mays Chequers plan.
Mrs May has insisted she will never allow a second referendum on Brexit and has vowed to defend her blueprint for quitting Europe.
Mr Grieve said Labours decision to edge toward a new referendum had changed the equation and there could now be a Commons majority for a new poll.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said: I believe the time has come for a polite rebellion by pragmatic Conservatives.
It was clear that there is a significant group of Conservative MPs who think that a Peoples Vote- a vote on the final form Brexit will take – is absolutely indispensable for the future wellbeing of our country.
So the only possible response must be to return to the British electorate and ask them what they want.
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured today) gave at a speech in the Midlands on how Labour would rebuild Britain if elected
In a separate interview with the New Statesman, Mr Grieve spelled out how the referendum could be brought about – suggesting one option was for Remainer MPs from across parties to join forces temporarily and form a government.
It would be fairly radical. Ultimately, any government is one which enjoys the majority of support of members of Parliament to carry out a policy, he said.
He added: There is a very curious level of majority consensus in my view that the Brexit process is very risky, that No Deal is an unacceptable outcome, and that any deal brought back by the Government, however worthy it may be and however well negotiated, is likely to have serious downsides to it.
Theresa May (pictured today on the Marr show) has insisted she will never allow a second referendum on Brexit and has vowed to defend her blueprint for quitting Europe