How can the Tory leadership repair relations with the base?by Max Wind-Cowie / May 21, 2013 / Leave a comment
It doesn’t matter if he (or, unlikely, she) said it. What matters is how believable it immediately was. Whether or not anyone close to the Prime Minister did tell reporters that Tory activists are “swivel-eyed loons,” many members already suspect that this is what the party elite thinks of them.
This isn’t the result of some singular split—a big issue like Europe or gay marriage—but of a wider, more dangerous disconnect. It’s the product of party conferences where the membership feel increasingly priced out and pushed to one side. It follows the “detoxification” process that, to many, looked and felt like a rejection of decades of tradition and many hours of their hard work. David Cameron knew that the Conservatives wouldn’t win an election with more of the same. For lots of dedicated activists, he seemed to think he couldn’t win an election with their help.
In many ways, their suspicions were correct. Cameron and his immediate allies are not naturally comfortable with the enthused and eccentric that make up much of the membership of my party (or any other British party). And while “modernisers” were correct that we couldn’t win with just the same policies and people, they also forgot that we couldn’t win without them either. Too often, rather than seeking to forge alliances between the Conservative base and the centre, we have jettisoned our own in order to pursue the fresh and the new.
The outcome has been apathy, the rise of Ukip and delight in rebellion. With Ukip just two points behind the Conservative party in the polls, the bankruptcy of this approach is now clear. But it would be wrong to blame just the Cameron clique for the decay of Conservatives in the community. The truth is more complicated and more structural, and requires action much more dramatic than a mass email of contrition.
Conservative Associations often resemble an hourglass. At the top are members in their sixties and seventies. And there are younger members: students, ambitious would-be politicos in their twenties. I was briefly (and pretty disastrously) Vice-Chair of the Conservative Association in my university town. Almost all the members were either studying or retired. This is not uncommon. It is a problem. The combination of callow youth and…