The Financial Times is not part of the Tory press. Indeed, it is very critical of the Party at present because of Brexit. So that this praise for its members comes from its Political Editor is worth clocking – and meditating on.
That yesterday’s hustings in Birmingham took place at all is partly due to this site. Not, we should add, because of anything that this Editor has done, but because of a campaign by his predecessor. For it was Tim Montgomerie who, in 2005, led a fightback against Michael Howard’s plan to cut members out of the leadership election. The scheme collapsed.
And as Tim wrote on this site last Friday, Party members are very far from being the “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” of left-wing legend – a phrase David Cameron applied to UKIP but which, for all intent and purposes, has been transferred over to activists by the Conservatives’ opponents.
Adam Afriyie, Bim Afolami, Kemi Badenoch, Rehman Chisti, Nus Ghani, Helen Grant, Sam Gyimah, Nick Herbert, Margot James, Ranil Jayawardena, Kwasi Kwarteng, Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi…again and again, Tory activists have selected ethnic minority and gay candidates – and in “safe seats”, for good measure.
That list is far from exhaustive, and doesn’t take into account councillors, Association Chairmen, and so on. But it’s worth adding that local Associations didn’t select these candidates because of their ethnicity or sexuality, at least as far as we know.
The reason Ruth Davidson performs very well in our monthly Cabinet League Table has nothing much to do with her private life and nearly everything to do with her public one. Party members think she is a winner. And winning has always mattered to the Party: that’s why its among the most enduring and successful in the world.
It’s also why members plumped for David Cameron over David Davis in 2005: they made a pragmatic judgement about who, in their view, was more likely of the two men to get the Conservatives back into government. He duly accomplished the task in 2010 and won a majority in 2015.
You will read that Tory members are older, whiter, better-off and more likely to be male than the average member of the population. Correct – though there is nothing wrong in itself in being any of those things. It is also true that the Conservatives would be more effective were its members more representative of the population as whole.
But party activists of all kinds are unrepresentative. A useful test for all of them is whether they can sustain a substantial presence in local and national politics. The Tories remain the largest party in local government in England, hold roughly half of all Commons’ seats, and have recovered in Scotland during recent years.
It will be argued that Conservative activists are now so dedicated to Brexit that they are forgetting how to be Unionists – and prize leaving the EU above the survival of their own party. The Union finding, recently published in a YouGov poll, is certainly worrying.
But, as Henry Hill pointed out recently on this site, one must take into account, first, that over the long-term the SNP have weakened support for the Union, not only in Scotland, and not only among Tory members. And, second, that in the short-term there is no independence referendum taking place that might concentrate minds.
As for Brexit, it seems to us that it would be absurd for activists to value the Party above all else. We expect that were activists to be surveyed they would prize the survival of the monarchy, say, over that of the Conservative Party. If so, would they really be wrong?
In short, whether it is more important to be a self-governing country than to have a flourishing centre-right party is a value judgement. Oh, and by the way: in the real world, the two don’t diverge – they march in step. YouGov also suggests that unless Brexit is delivered, the Conservatives are toast.
Obviously, no Party is perfect: far from it. There is a Tory problem with anti-Muslim prejudice – though the issue is complicated by there being forms of Islam, such as Wahabism, which ought to be opposed (and of which very many Muslims, perhaps a majority worldwide, are critical).
This prejudice doesn’t, unlike anti-semitism in the Labour Party, reach up to the top. Nor does the evidence suggest that it is as widespread. But ConservativeHome has been calling for over a year for an independent enquiry into racism in all the main political parties. We should not be frightened of the facts.
And the wider truth about Tory activists brings us back to George Parker’s tweet, yesterday’s Birmingham hustings, tough questions from members to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, and skilful chairing by LBC’s broadcaster and this site’s columnist, Iain Dale.
We have saved the final revelation until last. Conservative members turn out, after all the research has been done, mud flung, praise offered and questions asked, to be…Conservatives. There is no more telling final word than that.