The Not-So-Nasty Party
One of the more illuminating events at this year’s fringe was put on by the Birmingham Patron’s Club. It was titled “Managing Decline: the future of the Conservative Party in cities”. It centred on the depressing fact that our party’s performance in urban Britain outside London is little better than our much more well-known poor performance in Scotland.
One floor speaker pointed out that, when campaigning in their part of the country (I forget which), they often found Conservative activists outnumbered two to one by their Labour opponents, and asked if part of the Conservative problem was that we struggle to motivate our troops the way the left does.
The panel largely agreed with this analysis, and the explanation proffered was the different attitudes Labour and the Conservatives take to each other. Tories (by and large) don’t hate Labour people, but view them as well-meaning but misguided or some variation thereof. Left wingers on the other hand, as I’m sure many readers will know, are much more likely to believe that we on the right are almost cartoonishly, self-knowingly malicious and evil, and so get much more exercised about beating us than vice versa.
Unexpected confirmation for this theory came from Rowenna Davis, the left-winger on the panel. Having been to both party conferences, her view of the differences was telling. Apparently – for I’ve never been – Labour conferences are very tribal affairs, with who you talk to and how you’re treated by delegates dependent on how committed you have been to the cause. A Conservative could certainly count on a cool reception.
On the other hand, Ms Davis recounted that her initial nervousness about attending our conference was completely unfounded. Apparently, on the whole Conservatives are a fairly welcoming, gregarious bunch. She characterised the responses to her revealing she was Labour as something like “Waaaaay! Come in, there’s drink left.”
And to think, we get called the ‘nasty party’.