Tory Party Conference: In the Land of the Bland, the One Idea Man is King

October 3, 2013 12:28 pm

‘A week is a long time in politics,’ former PM Harold Wilson once said. He wasn’t kidding. Three weeks is even longer, especially when you have three wings of the same party doing battle in the dire hope of winning the ‘centre ground’.

 For that is what our mainstream politics has come to: slick presentations, soundbites and stage management. Small wonder then, that more people are switching off. We, the electorate, deserve better than this.

The first week saw Nick Clegg, pleading his case for the LibDems, insisting that ‘things could have been a lot worse if they hadn’t been in the Coalition government to restrain the Tories’. Then, last week, Ed Miliband declared his total lack of ‘geekism’, that ‘We can do better than this’ and he would have a word and ‘try and persuade’ big business to not be quite so greedy.

And let’s not forget the circus that was UKIP. Its little two day affair imploded as its EU organiser, Godfrey Bloom, was sacked for his less than gallant display towards all things female – the Sorry Little Ukip Twit.

Finally, it was the Tory Party – or, more accurately –  the Tory Parties, such are the rifts and divisions rumbling beneath the surface. There’s the ‘Cameroons’, supporters of David Cameron, and its rightwing anti-European backwoodsmen who haven’t yet decided whether or not to join their compadres (15% of them) who have already defected to UKIP.

A good barracking

David-Cameron

On the very first day of their conference, on Sunday, there was bother both inside the conference hall and without.

During Defence Minister Phil Hammond’s speech, two old soldiers dressed up, bemedalled, bewhiskered and ‘beret – ed’, gave him a good ‘barracking’ over the defence cuts in general and the disbandment of their old regiment of Fusiliers in particular.

‘If you just let me finish my speech, I’ll talk to you afterward,’ he said.

The old soldiers made their point and were shown the door – like many service men and women themselves have recently been ‘shown the door’, all in the name of those very same defence cuts.

More striking was that, on the streets of Manchester, filing past the conference hall, were 50,000 workers and their families, friends and colleagues marching in defence of the NHS, totally ignored by the Tories within. The demonstration earned about ten seconds on news bulletins with only a mention that ‘two people were arrested’.

Fringe

Meanwhile, there was a man on a mission: none other than Nigel Farage. Possibly still smarting from the PR disaster that was UKIP’s conference, he decided to infiltrate the Tory fringe meetings like a ghostly presence – Farage’s crocodile to Cameron’s Captain Hook?

Farage attended the ‘Bruges Group’ fringe meeting where he had been invited to speak. The ‘Bruges Group’ was where Tory Euroscepticism really took hold back in the early ’90s. It was a group that Farage attended when he himself was still a Tory Party faithful.  The ‘Bruges Group’ had paid for the meeting to be advertised in Tory literature, but party apparatchiks had refused to let it be printed.

Nevertheless, Farage arrived and the debate ensued between himself and arch-Tory ‘Eurosceptic’ MP, Bill Cash. You remember Bill? Trade mark candy-striped jacket from the early ’90s. He was one of a group of Tory MPs who John Major called ‘bastards’. Believe you me, they went ‘at it’ hammer and tong. They revealed the very real cracks that could lead to more turning to UKIP. Those who remain would certainly dash any hope of a Tory/UKIP electoral alliance. This would be of great concern to the ‘Cameroons’ who fear this would let Labour back into power by splitting the rightwing vote.

To make things worse, David Cameron’s conference speech positioned himself, and those around him, in a play for the centre ground. He scored points off his Labour counterpart. He accentuated the ‘mess Labour left behind’ (it was a global crisis of the capitalist system to which both parties were complicit). Cameron kept to the theme that ‘Red Ed’ was about to haul us ‘back to the ’70s’.

Cameron’s speech attempted to cover all angles. He tried to be all things to all people. Gone was the conviction politics of a Thatcher, whose memory he briefly summoned up. Hell, he even praised the hard and worthy work of social workers – at a Tory Party conference! I really had to give my head a shake at that one. Then again, when you’re trying to pass off 0.5% growth in GDP as ‘turning the corner to growth’, you need all the friends you can get.

By the time he finished, the applause was far from rapturous. It was steady and polite. You see, the baying crowds of the Tory Party need something to,well, bay at. Their leader wasn’t throwing many scapegoats their way. More telling was, as he and his wife Samantha made their way along the aisles, a mere two handshakes came his way and off they went. There was no pushing and shoving from the audience to get near them and have some of that charisma rub off on them.

What was missing were the same things missing from the other parties – lack of many stand out policies that set them apart. All they offered was – ‘more of the same’, yes, a little smidgin of growth but more cuts and hardship on the way.

Fair and progressive

david cameron conservativeAt one point in his speech, Cameron held that ‘profit is not a dirty word’.

Most democratic socialists would agree with him. We don’t have a problem with ‘profit’ whatsoever. It’s the fair distribution of those profits that matter. It’s about a decent living wage. It’s about how some of those profits are invested to create jobs, homes, services.

Cameron told us how he believed in ‘cutting taxes’. So do we, but let’s have it done in a fair, progressive way.

And it’s simply not good enough to cynically promise to impose another set of impotent ‘regulators’ on the big energy companies, nor is it good enough to wield more cuts on the poor and the working poor.

There’s a groundswell of anger building from below. The 50,000 marching past your conference windows will not stay quiet forever. In times past, our rulers used to call us the ‘Great Unwashed’. These days, we’re the ‘Great Unlistened to’.

The main party leaders don’t understand just why no one party won a workable majority at the last election that resulted in the present weak coalition. Millions of people are turning away from the bland leading the bland. Some are, dangerously, turning to far right solutions apparently, given the rise of formations like the EDL and UKIP. But more will be searching for better, more progressive solutions. They won’t find them in the present political parties.

As GMB union leader Paul Kenny said, after reducing donations to the Labour Party by £1 million: ‘The membership of the trade unions (7 million) is greater than any of the parties put together.’

It isn’t such a great leap to imagine that, should things continue as they are, and we continue to be ignored, then a new, stronger, more strident party of the Left should arise from the ranks of the labour movement.

If our politicans won’t ‘do it’ for us. We’ll have to ‘do it’ ourselves.

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