Conservative Party Conference – the Tories revert to type

Posted on: 08 October 2011 by Alexander Hay

As this year's conference nears its close, what have we learned? David Cameron isn't that good with metaphors, Boris knows he's more popular, Ken Clarke strikes from the shadows and Theresa May confronts the lurking menace of Bolivian cats

Tory! Tory! Tory! (Image c/o star-one @ Flickr)It is perhaps time for some turning points. The death of Steve Jobs certainly constitutes one, in regards to computers. The fall in house prices last month constitutes another deeply symbolic shift. As for this week's Conservative Party conference? It marks the point where everyone started to remember how much they don't like the Tories, and how empty they can be.

Take Cameron's use of the bulldog as a metaphor for the national spirit in his keynote speech. This might seem second nature. After all, bulldogs are supposed to embody Churchillian courage and certainty.

Sadly, the public now also knows that bulldogs are horribly inbred, can't give birth without medical attention, can hardly breath in some cases and are a great distance away from the more practical, lithe cow-biters they used to be. As a metaphor for the state of the nation, they remain perfect, but not in the way Cameron might have wished.

If anything the speech was a procession of nostalgia and yearning for what has passed, or rather what Conservatives think has passed, like the myth of the 'Sick Man' coming back from near death and the defeat of Communism. History is seldom that simple, however, and by providing a misleading view of the past, Cameron also provided a misleading view of the future. Perhaps the past was glorious, perhaps we'll make it to a better tomorrow, but that's neither here nor there when tomorrow's engineers and inventors face university bills of £27,000 while their parents wonder if they can afford the gas bill.

But the past seems to be where the future is, according to Cameron. Expect old fashioned schooling, old fashioned workhouses, old fashioned solutions... It sits uneasily with the rhetoric about tomorrow and making the country a better place, but then the Conservatives have never been that conservative in their last 35 years, either peddling reactionary pipe dreams of warm beer, cricket and chastity or pursuing some radical free market idea that will change everything - when they're not ripping themselves apart over Europe. As David Cameron once said to Blair, 'you were the future once', without realising that this applies to all politicians eventually.

Elsewhere, much comedy can be found in the form of Home Secretary Theresa May's one-woman war on Bolivian cats and 'political correctness gone mad' (no one ever cites political correctness gone sane, for some reason). May promises to keep cracking down on crime, scrap legal protections, deport more people, spare not the rod...

It is a simplistic view of the world that insists that all that's needed is harshness and a lack of compassion. In that sense, it's the Conservative mindset at its most visceral, but if Labour always ends up incompetent and creepily intrusive, so the Conservatives are also defined by being incompetent and vindictive. Ken Clarke's knifing of his colleague was well-timed and only retracted once the damage was done, May's Robocop routine being tiresome most of all to the Tory Wets to which Ken Clarke has long since pledged allegiance.

Same old tories, then - the only dramatic moment being Boris Johnson's upstaging of his boss earlier this week, but beyond that, the Tories have reverted to type, becoming unpleasant, self-serving and faintly clueless. Labour remains torn between Bottom Inspectors and UNISON tea ladies squabbling over its compromised soul. If only there were a third party to vote for... Instead there is only the Liberal Democrats.

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Alexander Hay

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