Graeme Archer has his own blog.
Last night I took Mr Keith to the Times Newspaper / Intelligence Squared debate at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington Gore. That’ll teach him for suggesting we "get out more". Listen, you don’t get to where I am in the modern Conservative Party (precisely nowhere) by hanging around trendy wine bars in Shoreditch, attempting to out-trend one another with respect to books read (Andrew O’Hagan), opinions held (Greener and Flatter, no?), or lifestyles celebrated (well, she’s with him now, but I heard that previously, before the organic beetroot stall went bottom up …). No! You do not! You get your backside down west London pretty well smartish and you mingle with the terminally rich, middle-class and treble-barrelled of surname (the row in front of us contained about 600 members of a family called "Rupert-Peverill-Browne" and there were more cravats than you could shake a stick at. Me? What was I wearing? Oh you know. Combat trousers and manky old teeshirt. Well I had come straight from work).
These debates are definitely A Good Thing and I think we’ll be signing up for the season: forthcoming inquiries will focus on the utility or otherwise of prisons (with Theodore Dalrymple), religion (with Richard Dawkins) and so on… you get the idea… it’s like You The Jury made flesh. If you don’t get the Radio 4 reference, my guess is that the debates aren’t for you.
Last night’s session was chaired by Polly Toynbee and addressed the motion The Tory Party is no longer Conservative. Speaking for the motion were Peter Hitchens of The Mail on Sunday, and a really funny bloke called Jeremy O’Grady, who edits The Week. Against the motion was Charles Moore (I bow) and Michael Gove MP (bowing again). Well! Given the topic and the speakers, I half expected to see the massed denizens of Conservative Home’s blogs swoop down as one onto the chamber, but of course I don’t know what any of you look like, so if you were there – hi! I was the manky looking bloke at the back with the bored looking geezer slumped next to him.
On the way in I said to Keith "Hitchens will be unpleasant about
homosexuals within 4 sentences, and Charles Moore will talk about
foxhunting. Michael Gove is the bloke who wrote that book I’ve left
lying at your side of the bed for the last 3 weeks". This last point I
said through somewhat gritted teeth. Is it any wonder, I ask myself in
my darker hours, that the Archer-Pannell electoral pact failed to have
the desired impact last May in Victoria ward, when at least one half of
the partnership is so slovenly at keeping up with the latest news from
Ms Toynbee opened the evening. Now here’s the funny thing. I doubt that
there’s a single view held by Polly Toynbee that I don’t disagree with,
and the majority of the things she writes make me scream silently in
horror. But she’s obviously a well-intentioned and pleasant woman.
Would that one could say the same about Hitchens ("pleasant man", I
guess, rather than "woman", but you know what I mean). Here the reverse
seems to apply – the more I agree with the various points he made, the
more I found his discourse so toxic that any atoms of good sense were
lost in the general sea of bile. He really does hate everything about
Britain since the 1950s. I was wrong, by the way, it didn’t take him four
sentences to mention homosexuality in a sad attempt to get a laugh – he
did it in one.
Charles Moore opened for the opposition and did OK (it’s London,
Charles – not many hunts here. And we know you’re writing Mrs T’s
biography but it’s not relevant to every argument that she used to
hoard rice pudding) but I could sense the mood of the meeting was with
the motion (the initial vote count, taken as we filed in, was heavily
in favour ie most people think that we’re no longer a conservative
party). (I should say that in his summing up, Charles Moore was
tremendous, putting his tremulous finger on the idea of Conservatism as
a disposition, rather than a set of policies). Jeremy O’Grady, who had
stepped in at the last minute to cover for another panel member who had
taken ill, was amusing and made the oft-heard demand for firmer
policies, though in such an amusing and well-constructed manner (I am
of course a bit in love with Greg Hands MP, but in Mr O’Grady’s
peroration about flight path policies (don’t ask), Mr Hands came out
poorly in a comparison with Burke) that even though I didn’t agree with
his points, I could feel that the audience loved it.
And then Michael Gove MP arrived – late from the Commons where he’d
been voting against the dreadful extradition policy of this government.
A satchel over his shoulder, so at odds with his pinstripe suit that he
really could be a Shoreditch boy if he wanted, he bounced onto the
platform, picked the audience up in his hand and treated us to a
master-class of rhetoric. He made the case for Cameron, pointing out
that what we sometimes hear as glib phrases, designed for the media
age, ("We’re all in this together" etc) are nothing more than a modern
take on the profoundly Burkean foundations of Toryism – what Cameron is
saying, should anyone choose to listen, is that the State can’t answer
all our problems, that we all have a duty to one another (as well as
"rights") and that the best solutions are likely to be local ones. I
can’t summarily do justice to Michael Gove’s speech – he also answered
questions from the audience with a real honesty, on topics that covered
his views on abortion to the situation in Iraq – he is clearly one of
the most talented members of parliament.
When the floor was opened, yours truly of course grabbed a microphone and
attempted to demonstrate how "we’re all in this together" is not only a
modern exposition of sound Tory strategy, but is tactically astute too,
as witnessed by our trebling etc of the vote in places like
Queensbridge, Hackney. That’s what I meant to say. What I actually did,
according to Mr Keith, who was clutching his head in his hands by this
point, was attack Peter Hitchens. Well, when am I going to get the
chance again? What was bizarre about Hitchens – and I want to make this
point – is that I merely said to him "you are incapable of speaking,
without being unpleasant about homosexuality". In his response, he said
that I accused him of homophobia. Of course I did no such thing, but I
thought it very interesting that a man who attacks the left for their
appropriation of language as a means of control should have instantly
attempted to do the same thing when a working class Tory stood up as a
mere witness to his unpleasantly manipulative language.
Summary: great night out, great speakers, great atmosphere, nice glass
of wine beforehand, and – by the way – the dreadful motion was heavily
defeated in the final vote – a sound victory for David Cameron,
delivered I’m sure by Michael Gove.