My old friend Peter Wilding of British Influence begins a riposte to Douglas Carswell in the Daily Telegraph as follows: "In the 1970s you could find in Tory Associations up and down the land cabals
of retired colonels and spotty youths coming together to agree that the
country had gone to the dogs and the only way forward was back. These were
not the Thatcherites. They were the fruity cocktail of old League of Empire
Loyalists, sad Monday Clubbers and new, tie-wearing teenagers on the make.
They wanted the empire back, the immigrants out and Russia bombed. It would
only take 15 divisions to reconquer India, Enoch was right and Moscow was
toast." Wilding goes on to compare Carswell to "swivel-eyed forebears" and mock "the Carswell handbag".
Leave for a moment the rights and wrongs of the argument (though I think, given his ad hominem attacks on Carswell, Wilding is unwise to criticise him for playing "the men, not the ball"). Instead, consider those retired colonels and tie-wearing, spotty youths. Having been a spotless, tieless youth at the time, Wilding knows as well as I do that a big chunk of the spotty ones were Thatcherites – not to mention those harrumphing retired colonels. And in believing that "Moscow was toast", they were right: it may temporarily have escaped Wilding that the entire Soviet system collapsed roughly a decade later.
However, my main concern isn't to quibble with him about who thought what in the 1970s. Rather, it is to ask: who on earth are British Influence trying to influence? As Wilding knows, "swivel-eyed" is a term of contempt for present Conservative activists; in using it, he clumsily links them to a precedecessor generation that he evidently detests. Nor are they likely to be impressed by his sideswipe at "the Carswell handbag", which suggests that wielding one in EU meetings never works. If Wilding searches his memory, he may recall one British Prime Minister who offers modest proof to the contrary.
There is no compulsion on anyone to like Tory activists. I cannot myself claim to like all of them, all of the time. But what is the point of insulting their feelings in the paper that they tend to read? Why throw away an opportunity to frame an argument in a way that might attract them? (Wilding has a go later in his piece, but many will have stopped reading by then.) It is hard to finish the article without concluding that the author is so consumed by his dislike of Conservative members as to be unable to contain it – even if British Influence loses out in consequence. I have an offer for him. As he knows, he is welcome to write for ConservativeHome. But he should do better next time. He could scarcely do worse.