Cameron Penny is a financial services lobbyist.
Late last week, two gentlemen made mistakes which betrayed a detachment from what we saw in Birmingham and, indeed, Doncaster during the days before the Conservative Party convened in the Midlands.
First, a very preppy-looking Minister with a penchant for the sweater, suit and tie look retweeted a poem which had a rather subjective view of homosexuals. Second, Matthew Parris popped up to somewhat smugly announce that the “fruitcakes are back in their tin.”
On the first point, let me say that the author of the poem was wrong and, as he has acknowledged, so was Matthew Hancock for retweeting it. They were wrong not only because of the subjective tone it took but, moreover, because it is wholly inaccurate to claim that it is the Labour Party that is “quite full of Queers”.
If the Minister had ventured to the Hyatt bar late of an evening, or indeed had joined me and many others for the LGBTory dinner on Tuesday night he would have seen exactly which party it is that the gay community has embraced. The Conservative Party has always had a strong following from gay men and women but the legacy of this leadership has been to make it one that people like me can openly support and can be open within.
Which brings me to a reflection on the type of people at Conference. I can remember the years when, seemingly, all conference coverage included a phrase about the ‘blue wash brigade’. Whilst it is right that we support policy measures to improve the lot of pensioners, it was clearly unsustainable to rely almost solely on them and a few lobbyists to populate our annual gatherings.
Fast forward to Birmingham 2014, and such a phrase was completely unimaginable. There were Tories of all ages, shapes, sizes, ethnicities, sexualities, religions and none. It wasn’t corporates who dominated, either – the vast majority of people I met were activists from all over the country, including a very healthy contingent of Brummies.
To cap it all I was privileged to share a minute with Ruth Davidson – the kick-boxing, TA-trained, lesbian leader of the Scottish Conservatives: see here the face of the modern Conservative Party. This is how far the Party has travelled, and it is something we should shout from the rooftops.
However, there was certainly plenty of shouting in Doncaster – where I had been as Mark Reckless bounded on stage. Cries of ‘UKIP, UKIP, UKIP’ reverberated around the hall as if an army was about to lay siege to some fortified citadel.
There had also been some booing when Matthew Parris’ name was mentioned. So in considering the “fruitcakes back in the their tin” comment in his column yesteray, can I suggest that it was provocative journalism but poor politics? We cannot write off 14 – 18 per cent (depending on the polling you read) of the electorate as “fruitcakes”. I met many Kippers in Doncaster: I confess that I even shared a curry with several of them who, perhaps, if we’d found a way to keep them in the fold would still be what they almost certainly were – i.e.,Conservatives.
History, however, cannot be rewritten and the next election will be a four-horse race. The latest polling for Rochester even has a nine per cent lead for UKIP there. So I’d like to praise, not pillory, the Kippers. Praise not for their policies, but for having shaken up British politics. For too long it was dull, and everyone apparently sounded the same.
Not anymore. The Prime Minister and the Party are energised as never before, Labour are heading into the election trying to look Blair-lite – but in policy terms have swung to the Left, Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have written a love letter to Ed Miliband – whilst their leader appears to be in open conflict with his own colleagues on airport expansion and welfare caps. To cap it all Nigel Farage has birthed what is essentially an English ‘nats’ Party to rival in fervour and fanaticism the SNP experience.
So what will voters do next May? Well I hope they’re not shouted at – and I hope we keep the ad hominem attacks to a minimum. One thing is for sure, though: they will have a choice when they enter the polling station, and I hope they choose the future.