Management consultant Ed Hall is a former award-winning BBC broadcaster and political campaigner, and long-time Conservative activist.
I am going to have to go on a brief electoral holiday as a Tory voter, as I simply cannot see how in all good conscience I can put a cross in the Conservative box this May.
This isn’t an easy decision. Since being one of just a couple of Tory-supporting pupils at a very pro-CND school in the 1980s,I have supported the Conservatives in every way I could. As a young man, I worked for members of both Houses of Parliament, I’ve sat on committees in two constituencies, I have been part of selection committees for MPs and councillors, including such different political voices as Michael Portillo and Charles Tannock MEP.
My first election campaigning was against Kate Hoey in the 1989 Vauxhall by-election, and my most recent activity was working hard on the ground to see the successful election of the excellent Jamie Greene MSP in 2016: nearly three decades of activism.
I have spent my hours outside Tube stations with leaflets, I have knocked up doors in constituencies up and down the country, I canvassed hard in North London estates for Boris Johnson for his second term as Mayor, just as I wore out shoe leather for Richard Benyon in Newbury in 2005. In 2015, I spent hours in a grubby constituency office making call after call to try and elect Simon Marcus to replace Glenda Jackson in Hampstead and Kilburn: we came within a thousand votes.
I’ve written publicly and privately on policy matters, contributed where I can to Conservative thinking, and was the runner up to be our parliamentary candidate in both Exeter and Hammersmith in 2015.
I’ve donated thousands of pounds to the party, and I have (more than once) been the fool who overpays for Thatcher memorabilia at our auctions and dinners. When people say, ‘He’s a Tory!’, they mean me.
Of course, I don’t always agree with many of our MPs on lots of things, and I was an activist who strongly supported the libertarian and common-sense adoption of gay marriage as a sound Conservative policy. I don’t agree with my friend Charles Tannock on Europe, and I don’t agree with Peter Bone on equality and discrimination. Being a Conservative has always meant being part of a broad church, where we argue and debate and agree a common platform; I’ve accepted that, and I think my moderate, liberal, libertarian wing has won more battles than it’s lost over the years.
And so why do I need a break? It’s obvious really, but I think the party has lost control of itself, and is wrapped up in a bizarre Emperor’s New Clothes fantasy that anyone anywhere is taking it seriously. We have to stop this insanity, and we have to stop now. Since the catastrophic 2017 election led by a tiny group of Number 10 advisors who listened to nobody, we have changed from being the party of common sense and sound judgement, to a parliament of fools, led by a Prime Minister who is as sensitive to outside advice and opinion now as she was when she introduced the Dementia Tax in our 2017 manifesto. Am I the only person who cringes when she quotes that document as gospel in the Brexit debate, as I recall it was the same manifesto that persuaded a million Conservative voters to desert us or stay at home?
James Cleverly, whom I rate very highly, tweeting with pride and loyalty about his appointment to the Department for the Exiting the European Union, is probably the piece of tragi-comedy that pushes me off the edge. Has he lost his mind? His very job title is dotty 1984 Newspeak: he is the emergency last-gasp choice to enter revolving door of the Department for Not Exiting the European Union. A more failed, farcical joke department you would be pushed to make up: it doesn’t even have a proper office building. It’s a pretend department with a mish-mash of officials borrowed from elsewhere, using borrowed desks and borrowed meeting rooms all over Whitehall. Like the whole Brexit process, the department is a sham, with no executive powers, no authoritative voice, and not even a direct route to the so-called talks.
In 2016 we voted to leave the EU. I was on the fence for a while during the referendum campaign, but ultimately, I voted to leave. As far as I’m concerned, that’s that. Despite the obvious incompetence and poor preparation for the 2017 election, I supported May. I thought triggering Article 50 without a plan for what we wanted afterwards was a mistake, and I thought agreeing to the EU’s refusal to agree to twin-track talks was also a mistake, but I voted Conservative as I have done my whole life because I took our Brexit commitment, and May, at her word. I stuck with it.
What I see before me now is a government without a majority carrying out actions without a manifesto mandate, pitting executive power against a parliament that does not reflect the public mood, and a shattering series of broken promises. I see a party in full, free-flowing meltdown, with ministers actually voting against each other, and bitter arguments in local associations that are tearing apart lifelong friendships.
I can’t support that. Despite the practical issues and potential consequences, I don’t see how we can continue without a general election, or at the very least a new leader. When we didn’t leave on 29th March it was time for an election, for good or bad. That’s basic democratic stuff. May doesn’t represent me, and she doesn’t represent almost anyone I know. I can’t stand on the doorsteps in May and tell people to vote for her party, despite the excellent work our councillors do up and down the country. I’d like to because I know and respect many of them, but I can’t put leaflets through doors with May or this government on them.
So, I’m taking an electoral holiday.
I’m flirting with the Brexit Party, albeit worried about the influence of the dotty or dangerous far right, or I might go Green, or frankly even Raving Loony. Where is the Pirate Party when you need it? The simple reality is, that with Brexit as a single-issue subject, and with a lifetime of Tory voting and activism behind me, I simply cannot pretend any longer that I have any plans whatsoever to tick the Tory box.
I suspect I’m not alone.