“Today’s Tory candidates are an embarrassment – 30 years ago rabid nationalism wouldn’t have stood a chance”

“Some 40 per cent of the diminished band of Tories who will be elected to town and county halls up and down England today (by-elections excepted, there are no seats up for grabs in either Scotland, Wales, or London) are set to snub their own party at the next set of elections, for the European parliament.

That was the startling finding of a Mail on Sunday poll less than two weeks ago. If accurate, it was a stark demonstration of just how much the bedrock of the party has changed, and how deep the pit it has fallen into is.

I got to know a lot of local councillors in the early part of my career while working as a cub reporter on the Eastern Daily Press (EDP), which circulates in Norfolk, North Suffolk and parts of Cambridgeshire, in the 1990s.

Sitting through interminable local council meetings while being rotated around various small offices in market towns throughout the region was an important part of my working life. Glamorous it was not.

The Tories I encountered at the time didn’t strike me as the sort of people to form a Faragist fifth column, at least not most of them.

There were always a few fruit loops; the golf club bore types who loved the sound of their own voices and could turn dull meetings into horror shows during which I was sometimes tempted to jab my pen into my hand to shut them out.

But they were in the minority, a minority much smaller than the 40 per cent one who are apparently planning to desert their party at the next set of elections. The noise those empty heads made could safely be ignored.

Most of them were of a more patrician type, representatives of a civic conservatism that seems to be dying. Sure, they loved Margaret Thatcher, who did so much to take us into the EU and would never have been stupid enough to try and leave it despite all of her high profile battles with Brussels.

She was like a rock star to them, but their personal politics seemed bereft of her brand of radicalism. They weren’t really all that political, truth be told. Their allegiance to their party was deep and essentially tribal. They mightn’t have loved the EU, but the ructions over the Maastricht treaty that were tearing the national party apart seemed to have mostly passed them by.

They were provincial types who seemed to genuinely care about their localities, and they weren’t shy about butting heads with central government when they felt local causes merited it, as they often did.

I would never vote for them, but I often found them easier to deal with than the Labour people, whose politics I was much more in tune with, or the smaller number of Lib Dems.

They certainly didn’t seem like the type of people to be seduced by a demagogue like Farage, a charlatan who has never run anything of substance and was focussed on his media work before saying he was coming out of “semi retirement” to create the Brexit Party.

It could just be me, but isn’t he paid a decent whack to do the full time job of representing constituents in the European parliament? Local councillors are, by contrast, part timers, who get little reward for the jobs they do, jobs that are particularly difficult right now. It can’t be much fun spending your days cutting things as a consequence of the decade of austerity foisted on the country by their leaders. Many councils are now skating on very thin ice. Northamptonshire basically went bust. Others will follow.

The sort of person it takes to serve in that sort of role wouldn’t seem to be the sort person who would naturally incline towards a rabble rouser more interested in appearance work than hard work. But a substantial chunk of today’s Tories have been.

I remember once being dragooned into going to a constituency association dinner. I think my boss wanted someone to show their face as much as anything else.

I felt a bit like a stranger in a strange land going there, and I promptly set about fortifying myself with as much of the wine that was in plentiful supply as I possibly could.

The event struck me as odd at times, particularly when they showed off four young men who were apparently the constituency’s great hopes and looked a bit like Stepford husbands when they stepped up to the dais in their identical dark suits to receive a smattering of applause. They were probably called Hugo, or Jeremy, or something like that. At least they didn’t say anything.

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That was left to the constituency chairman, an amiable enough old duffer of a farmer. His speech was devoid of anything really interesting. It was mostly focussed on geeing up the troops and telling them how wonderful they all were.

He delivered it in front of an EU flag, which took equal billing with the union flag. I doubt the ugly nationalists who dominate the party today would tolerate that. They’re not really Conservatives, a point made by Richard Harrington, who resigned his position as a junior business minister to oppose a no-deal Brexit.

But I’m not sure they’re in as much of a minority in the party as he thinks they are, certainly not if that poll is correct.

I think I’d have called in sick rather than spend an evening in their company if I was still at the EDP.

The change in the Conservative Party and its descent into extremism has been the subject of far less reporting than what’s been happening in Labour. But it’s no less profound.”


One thought on ““Today’s Tory candidates are an embarrassment – 30 years ago rabid nationalism wouldn’t have stood a chance”

  1. An excellent summary. It’s shocking what’s happened to The Conservative party over recent years. Their decent into extremism is a disgrace


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