The Conservative Party is having its annual conference in the UK and many are echoing the same sort of sentiments that are increasingly being expressed within the National Party.
For the activist, conference is an increasingly depressing experience. The seaside resorts are long banished: now we ricochet between Birmingham and Manchester because their urban chic is more attractive to the professional lobbyists, who outnumber party members at conference by a huge margin.
It’s very different from those old days in Blackpool or Brighton, when you queued politely in the tea-room, swapping canvassing stories with members of different associations. And when real policies were debated by real members in the hall, and put to the vote. I wish conference would return to the seaside, but more importantly, that it would allow its members to engage with the party again. Why can’t we elect the Party chairman, for example?
Sound familiar…but wait there’s more:
So what brings us to Birmingham? Hope, I expect. Hope that this bloody awful year for the Prime Minister can be put behind us, and the clouds of Tory gloom can be dispersed. It’s not the omnishambles per se that depresses party members – though the impression that the Government can be bullied into U-turns explains the ebullience of the trade union movement, with its objectively two-nation demands for public sector pensions.
And it’s certainly not the whole “David Cameron leads a government of toffs” theme, refuelled by the Mitchell affair, which appears to be Labour’s entire electoral strategy. Not that I’m immune to it. One of my failings is an atavistic dislike of precisely the class which David Cameron represents, and his patrician sheen of, if not quite noblesse oblige – perhaps “stockbroker-belt concern” – annoys me as much as it does Ed Miliband’s focus groups.
Oh the parallels…on and one they go:
The bigger problem – why Tories are fed up – came to me at a bus stop, watching two tramps screaming abuse at each other: not enough has changed. We knew the economy would remain grim, that vested interests would wave their shrouds at every inch of reform. But on May 7, 2010 we dared hope that common decency would return to the world we inhabit, driven by a relaxation of the control-mania that typified the Blair-Campbell-Brown axis and a recalibration of the norms for social interaction. Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell made public life stink, and there was a consequence for how we treated each other. This should have been reversed by now.
It’s not the economy, stupid, and it’s not the lack of prime ministerial ideology either. Ideologies are always temporary machines for Tories, used and discarded over time. But there has been an overarching theme to successful Conservative administrations, muted in this one: protect good people, and set them free. Lock up the criminals, and keep your paws off my email, in other words.
I’m sure such matters – the mood of a bus journey, our relationship with the state – seem unimportant to ministers. But, as the activists on the Birmingham train could tell him, they are proving lethal to Mr Cameron’s premiership – and with it the chance of a Tory majority.