Some of my best friends are Conservatives. Even now, when the party has moved so far from the “one-nation” values they share, they cannot bring themselves to leave the tribe. Instead, they cling on in the vain hope that the elders will come to their senses and the old order will be restored.
So it was that, in May last year, I was at a dinner party discussing the results of that month’s European elections. Not one of the 10 people present had voted Tory. Neither had anyone done what nearly a third of the country did and voted for the Brexit Party, which was then giving refuge to many Conservatives who wanted to let off steam under Theresa May. None of this would have been surprising, given that we were gathered in affluent, left-leaning Hampstead, but for the fact that our number included three Conservative peers, one Conservative Member of Parliament and one former Conservative MP. We might have been members of the party but we couldn’t possibly vote for it.
A year ago, I extricated myself from that uncomfortable position, resigning the whip and leaving the Tory benches I had inhabited since 2011 to squeeze into the territory of the “non-affiliated” members of the House of Lords.
While my dinner party colleagues today continue to speak against the government and often vote against it, few of them have formally severed any link. But I have no regrets about my choice. When I accepted David Cameron’s invitation to become a working peer, it was when I still believed he was intent on the mission that he first articulated as leader of the opposition in 2007: “fixing our broken society.” Even though the financial crash had intervened and austerity temporarily curtailed broader societal ambitions, I believed that Cameron could be a long-term force for good. I gave up the day job editing the European edition of the Wall Street Journal, and joined the backbenches of the Upper House.
Navigating the arcane procedures of the Lords was easier than giving up the independence that most journalists treasure. The party whip may not be physical but it is supposed to be taken seriously and obeyed. In the Commons, it comes with the carrot of potential promotion and the ultimate sanction…