…and back to politics for a moment.

I have to admit that a good part of my motivation for writing the ‘in opposition to the opposition’ blog the other day was to coherently present my argument against the modern Tories to my friend – the excellent blogger and fantastic stand-up comedian Tom Greeves (http://bigtommygspeaks.blogspot.com/). Tom is one of my favourite people to spend an evening in the pub with – he can reduce me to tears of laughter with his masterful wit but he is also a very sharp man, with a keen and quick mind and rare intelligence. Along with this, he is a fantastically warm and generous friend and brilliantly decent human being. I’m heaping on the praise – all of which is of the utmost sincerity – because, when he reads this, I want him to know that I think he’s fantastic and is one of my favourite people in the world… despite what I’m about to write….

I think in friendships there are many novelty factors. I know that many of my more ‘establishment’ friends enjoy having a big hairy rocker looking guy as a friend because it’s different to the rest of their social circle. I know some of my friends put great stock in my perceived either social standing or ‘coolness’ (I get introduced far far more often as ‘Jon – he owns Videosyncratic’ than just ‘my friend Jon’). I’m, of course, guilty of such transgressions against my own friends too, is it really a transgression? No, of course not, it’s just a novelty that we enjoy. Despite all I love about Tom – and that being the basis of our friendship – there is a novelty I enjoy about having him as a friend. He’s a Tory.

I do actually have one other Tory friend now, but that is fairly recent. Tom was the first. Me and my conservative friend. Indeed, when mentioning him to others I’ve called him ‘my friend Tom – the tory’, ‘my tory friend Tom’ or even ‘Tom the Tory’. It tickles me, I love having a Tory friend. I love talking with him about Tory maters. For a long while, one of my favourite possessions was his buisiness card from his position as speechwriter and policy consultant on Boris Johnson’s successful campaign to be London Mayor. I just got it out of the drawer to have a look. It’s ace! On the back there are 4 i-pod-advert-style silhouetted of Boris; a blue one (subtle) of him stood sensibly, back straight, arms behind his back, like a leader, a green one of him walking his bicycle along, a yellow one of him looking slightly dishevelled and a red one in which he his rubbing his messy-haired head. On the flip side are Tom’s contact details and the bold statement ‘BACK BORIS for a greater London’. I must have proudly shown it to many people at the time because I can’t even remember who scribbled out the first two letters, replacing the BA with an FU. This is beside the point and I actually rather like Boris as a mayor.

So, yeah, back to my point… Part of my impetus for that original post was to coherently explain to Tom why I can’t see how he could support Cameron as leader of his chosen party. I should also add that I don’t think Tom and I have actually discussed this matter in person at all. But I do feel I posted that blog as much to express my feelings as to elicit a response from him.

Today he linked me to this piece that he has written – http://conservativehome.blogs.com/centreright/2009/07/in-defence-of-youth-.html

I’m not sure if he wrote this in direct response to mine, we’ve not discussed it and I knew that if I took this into personal correspondence with him, I’d never have the patience to reformat my views into a blog. I’m not much of a re-drafter and tend to jump from one thing that interest me to the next. So I’m essentially making this public blog my open response to him, not because I can’t address him directly but because it kills two birds with one stone – especially since I had been toying with mentioning Chloe Smith in the blog before but had just left it.

I’m not going to pick apart Tom’s article which I mainly disagree with purely on the grounds that I don’t understand who he is rallying against – I’m unaware of anyone campaigning to raise the legal age of inductee MPs to 35 and have yet to see any blanket condemnation of young politicans in general. It certainly wasn’t my point. I think MPs should be from all walks of life and all ages. I would merely hope that they are politicized, passionate and have an agenda. I was, however, saying that a LEADER. A PRIME MINISTER should absolutely be a worldy and experienced person of both life and politics.

For those who don’t know, Chloe Smith is the 27 year old Tory candidate who just won the seat in a by-election of the traditionally Labour stronghold constituency of Norwich North. The Tories have predictably declared this an indication that the country wants ‘CHANGE’. I should emphasize again that I align myself with no political party, I’m a floating voter who votes based purely on the candidates as individuals. So, I’m ‘pro’ nobody but generally ‘anti’ annoying, exploitational bullshitters. Which, admittedly is the bulk of parliament.

Anyway, Chloe’s ‘victory’ is endemic of the state of politics in the UK. For the Tories to declare it a ‘win’ is kind of stupid. The by-election had been called because the Labour incumbent MP Ian Gibson had been deselcted by his party for being at the centre of the recent Expenses scandal. In such a time of political turmoil, is it surprising that if a party pulls it’s own candidate out, a local electorate is going to not trust the new candidate (or that same party) by default and go for the next most obvious candidate, which will always be Conservative. They did not win, Labour lost. The seat effectively defaulted to them.

So she’s in, would I discriminate against her age? No. Tom eloquently details the scale of experience to age and I agree that good judgment can be as important as experience in being a good politician. I also think motivation is important – WHY does this person WANT to be an MP. And this is where I think Chloe Smith particularly falls down. This week, she told journalist Alex Stevenson:

“I’m 27, I’ve never made any bones about that and actually I think one thing I can contribute is to put a little bit of energy back into politics,” she said brightly.

“I think people around here are ready for that… if I can put a bit of fresh energy into it – a fresh face – that’s what I’m going for.”

Is this not the very definition of what got us into trouble with our last Prime Minister. What does  ‘a bit of energy’ and ‘a fresh face’ do in comparison to passion, a strong ideal and, yes, experience? On reading interviews with her, she just espouses bland partyline non-committal, transparently socialist patter.

I love the idea of a young, radical faction of politicians becoming MPs on both sides of the house and bringing some passion and idealism back into the building. In the meantime, I feel safe in declaring ms Smith a boring standard ‘New Tory’ goon with no real agenda, no firm policies, just a thirst for power and a ‘fresh face’.

The fact that Cameron so openly declares this a victory and a sign that the country wants him to lead shows to me only that he is either an idiot or a liar. Maybe both.

And I don’t get how a person who is intelligent, articulate and awesome enough to be friends with me could align himself so completely with the modern Conservative party.


Published in: on July 30, 2009 at 4:07 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Hey Jon,

    Thanks for the post. I don’t want to make your readers vomit through their noses, so I won’t lavish on the praise in return, other than to say your warm and fuzzy feelings are reciprocated. We can’t become a gay couple for two reasons: 1) neither of us is gay and 2) there isn’t a bed in England strong enough to hold us both (and probably not even in America). But I love you too, man.

    I genuinely can’t remember how much your post on David Cameron influenced my decision to write about inexperienced people in politics. It may have put the idea in my head, but it wasn’t a direct response to yours. Certainly I didn’t have you in mind when I addressed the claim that no-one under 35 should be elected an MP. But it IS a claim I read and hear a lot.

    I must confess that when I first admitted to myself that I was a Conservative (and it was self-realisation rather than that I ‘became’ one) my natural horror was tempered with the thought that it was quite a counter-cultural, rebellious, naughty thing to do – so your remarks are gratifying.

    Why am I a Tory? Because the Conservative Party best reflects my political beliefs. If that changed, so would the way I vote. I would, for example, withdraw my active support for the Party if the leadership advocated entry into the euro. That’s not to say that I don’t have ANY tribal loyalty. After a decade of working for them in various ways it’s inevitable that I should do so, and I can think of loads of MPs, officials and likely future MPs whom I admire a great deal and think would do a great job in power.

    Essentially I believe in the inherent and inviolable and invaluable dignity of the individual. I know you do too, but I have concluded that this is best served by small government which allows people to thrive, even at the expense of inequality. That government should not impose many restrictions on people, particularly in the economic sphere. (I fairly, as opposed to very, socially liberal).

    I instinctively think the nation state has more to recommend it than international government (such as the EU or UN), and I am an ardent free marketeer. I also support the Monarchy, Church of England, and House of Lords, and am sceptical of rapid change.

    So I couldn’t be anything other than a Tory.

    As for the more specific point about inexperience, I refer you to the post you’ve kindly linked to. I take the point that being an MP and being Prime Minister are two wildly different jobs, but I still think judgement is the biggie. Tony Blair had never been a minister before he became PM. For all his faults, I don’t think he was hampered in pursuing his agenda by that fact. He screwed up because of his personal qualities and beliefs.

    Would the agenda have been different if he had had more experience? Maybe. Maybe, just maybe, he’d have been more reluctant to go to war if he’d been a grizzled veteran of either government or the military. But as I pointed out in my ConHome post, there are doves and hawks who have served and doves and hawks who have not served in the military. Surely, when it comes down to it, you’re more interested in what someone advocates than what their background is?

    The reasons for Chloe Smith’s victory are various. Yes, there will have been an anti-Labour vote, but actually Ian Gibson was popular in Norwich, and lots of people felt he was hard done by (which perversely may have helped Chloe too). She will also have benefited from the Tories’ increased popularity, but we shouldn’t assume that no-one voted for her because they liked the cut of her jib. I feel that the personal factor gets underestimated by the pundits.

    If you trawl through anyone’s declarations you’d find stuff that seems a bit asinine. There is a regrettable tendency in Conservative politics right now to ape the worst aspects of Blairite speech. Sentences with no verbs. Meaningless phrases. They should hire me again, as I could sort it out!

    But I will wait to see a bit more of Miss Smith before writing her off. I agree that too many MPs have taken her route into politics; it doesn’t mean that individual ones who have done so aren’t any good. To be honest, you usually have to be bloody bright to work for a company like hers and to become a Party adviser.

    As for David Cameron, he has got a handle on the Party like no-one has managed since Lady Thatcher. He has therefore already shown great skill and management ability. I agree that his pronouncements can seem a bit vapid or all-things-to-all-people. But I also believe that he has excellent instincts, and that beneath the gloss he has a firm idea of where to take the country.

    His main task will be to try to get a grip on the economy. But I also predict he will adopt a more sceptical approach to relations with the EU, make possibly quite big choice reforms in education (and smaller ones in healthcare), cut red tape to liberate the police to fight crime, and have a more responsible attitude to the environment than other Tories. I think he will tackle some of the worst excesses of political correctness and has a healthy scepticism about some public sector bodies and the way they boss people around.

    His is a generous-spirited, liberal Toryism that I think will contrast well with Labour’s increasing contempt for people and desire to micro-manage them.

    But that’s all very broad brush. There ARE detailed policies, on all subjects, they just rarely get published. But come election time there will be a campaign guide that’s three inches thick stuffed full of policy. Cameron’s job is to establish much broader themes in his speeches, interviews and articles. In the meantime, read ConservativeHome and Conservatives.com (the latter is the Party’s official site). I’m afraid one has to dig deeper than the evening news or newspapers for detail.

    Policy and direction are what counts. The guy (or gal) behind the big desk doesn’t need to have years and years of experience. But many of the people around them should. And there I share some of your concern. Cameron mustn’t only listen to the bright young Turks. He needs to listen to the wisest civil servants, and also to get some of the old hands in, if not to take Cabinet jobs, then to advise him. I hope he will.

    But what really matters is how much we’re taxed, whether we go to war, what’s happening in our schools and hospitals, whether we have control of our borders, not concreting over green fields and having good international relations.

    Sometimes a crusty old fart is best placed to deliver. Sometimes it’s a young buck.

    One thing’s for certain: it ain’t me, babe. I’d hate to be an MP, and have some admiration for almost everyone who is one.

    • That was an eloquent response, my right honourable friend. But I have to disagree on some fronts.

      I think you haven’t DIRECTLY addressed the Cameron issue. I can’t believe that a man of your thoughtfulness and intelligence would genuinely think he is the right man to lead the country. You see, I think we might be talking at cross-purposes. I’m sure he does have a good ‘grasp’ on the party, unfortunately the skills and experience needed to lead a party to power are – these days – quite different to the skills and experience needed to actually do the job once you’ve got it. That is a lesson we should have learned from Blair.

      Cameron undoubtedly has the management and PR skills to unite his party and tell the press ‘we will not be un-united like Gordon Brown’s government’

      My issue is that he’s ALREADY lying to us, patronising us and insulting our intelligence. It is an insult to the electorate to run a campaign on anything BUT policy. To say ‘you’ll find out our policy nearer the election’ is like being told at a restaurant ‘you’ll discover our menu as we are serving’.

      This policy of a ‘liberal toryism’ is VERY troubling too – look what a conservative left wing brought us.

      Your phrase ‘allows people to thrive, even at the expense of equality’ gave me a genuine cold chill. I think you should consider this more carefully and then watch Robert Greenwald’s excellent ‘Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price documentary’. That illustrates the logical conclusion of your statement in which a society can allow a tiny handful of people to rake in billions of dollars through the exploitation of hundreds and thousands of people. I would really like to show you this film, it changed a lot of my views on the free market.

      The issue of tax is an interesting one. Modern politics campaigns stronger on this than it does policy. (Which also reflects shamefully on the electorate, I feel) But I can only be skeptical of a group of people, almost a decade and a half out of power, basically no actual cabinet experience between them, declaring themselves the low-taxes party. It’s preposterous. Our country is massively in debt, these people have no practical experience of balancing a budget, the likelihood of them actually lowering taxes for the people who need it is smallllllll. Why can’t they admit that taxation is a nightmare, the economy is a nightmare, they’ll do the best they can but we should vote for them because here is their clear view about how this nation can thrive?

      In your second-to-last paragraph, I can flag up three of your seven stated issues which are traditionally not of any Tory concern (education, hospitals and greenbelt preservation). That struck me as strange.

      I don’t know, mate. I think in these times of centralised populist politics, I’m skeptical about anybody who can align themselves with any of the parties. I have yet to find any of these people who I trust enough to represent my views that I could proclaim my support.

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