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Kathy Gyngell: Politics without passion. A parade of pygmies at the party conference


‘He lied and he lied and he lied.’ From my TV on Sunday evening came the Conservative party chairman’s petulant schoolboy voice complaining about Mark Reckless’s defection to Ukip.

Is this what the chairman’s opening party conference speech has descended to, I thought, as I cleared away the dishes.  Why does poor Grant Shapps thinks he can compete with this brutally timed act of treachery?

And then  the question I’ve asked numerous times before: what on earth possessed  David Cameron to promote such a colourless candidate to such an important role as party chairman in the first place?

A duller young man more devoid of wit, charm and personality, you’d be hard put to find. What is it with David Cameron, that he puts such lack-lustre and immature MPs into such significant roles, and fails to spot the dodgy ones?

No one has given me a satisfactory answer.  Only that, some say,  a cult of youth dominates Downing Street.

Or is it simply that David Cameron is a poor judge of talent or character –  as his promotion of both Andy Coulson and Brooks Newmark suggests?

I am sure young Grant has a host of qualities – but if they are hidden to the camera – they are hardly likely inspire an increasingly disaffected membership, let alone recruit new members.

Would any successful businessman use this man to launch a new product?  I think not. Not the Carlton TV that Dave used to work for.

As the Guardian sketch writer John Grace put it:  “Grant Shapps is a man with the unusual gift of making people believe the exact opposite of what he is saying; not a quality that is normally on the job description for a Conservative party chairman.”  Quite so.

How could he or party headquarters think his attempt at  Churchillian rhetoric (“We will not waver. We will not be blown off course. We will finish the job we started …) could or would convince. They must all, as Margaret Thatcher once accused the veteran broadcaster David Frost of being, ‘be bonkers’.  Did no one at Number 10 realise that neither gravitas nor theatrics are Grant’s thing? Did no one question his grand delusion?

Then there is Matthew Hancock. He is  is another mind-boggling appointment. Every time I see him on Question Time I despair.  He has no personality, even less energy, and is neither lucid nor concise.  He is infinitely forgettable.  A Boris Johnson command of language and wit he has not.  His BBC conference interview on Monday was deadly.   He could not have been more boring if he tried, as he under-enthused to his interviewer.

Yet this is the man Cameron has tasked with the most important of tasks as Minister of State at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as well as Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Minister of State for Portsmouth to boot.

Presumably his numerous Oxbridge degrees are deemed adequate for purpose and by definition to equip him for all these roles. Sadly they do not. All ministerial positions require communication competence and authority.

Then there is George Osborne. It is bad enough that he has the presentation skills of an undertaker. But arguably his  sepulchral tones fit the task at hand and can be forgiven in a man who has managed his grim task of keeping the economy afloat and everyone’s demands at bay. Honest doom and gloom is probably the order of the day at the Treasury, and the least likely to offend.

But not for business and innovation.  Surely that demands something more upbeat? A dose  of  Boris’s enthusiasm would not have hurt dull Matt.

Outside Boris land any sense of drama, fun and occasion has evaporated from the now oh so youthful and earnest Conservative Party.  Is this  the dead hand of modern media training at work? Or have the wrong people gone into politics for the wrong reasons? People without belief or passion?

William Hague’s begging party email yesterday reminded us that it was 37 years ago that he first stood on stage at the Conservative conference. Those old enough to remember have his non-stop smile and boyish enthusiasm indelibly imprinted on their memories –  against that ever dramatic Mrs Thatcher backdrop.  But he too has adapted to low key, non committal Cameroonian politics.

Is this all a function of prosaic Dave’s lack imagination and any sense of theatre?  Or could it be his real concern is that ‘people will ever worship the rising not the setting sun?’

If so he has surely made himself  safe. He could  hardly be said to  be surrounded  with pretenders to the throne.  A pity  he has yet to show he the heart and the stomach of a king himself.

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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