Once upon a time, I was a Conservative Party activist. I was chairman of my local Conservative association. I was a city councillor. I even stood for Parliament (albeit in an unwinable seat). I pounded the streets, knocked on doors, and hung around in the town hall in the middle of the night as ballots were counted.
As this latest general election approached, I remained convinced that the Tories, being the only significant party not to harbour a deep-seated suspicion of capitalism, were also the only party that could remotely be trusted with the economy; that Mrs May’s intentions towards Brexit seemed genuinely honourable; and that the prospect of Mr Corbyn in Number 10 was too horrible to contemplate.
So why did I find myself unable to put my cross in the box marked ‘The Conservative Party Candidate’?
The rallying cry for ‘modernisation’ in the Conservative Party in early years of the millennium was spearheaded by the so-called ‘Portillistas’, followers of former cabinet minister Michael Portillo, and had two essential aspects. The first was that there needed to be more ‘diversity’ in candidate selection—in other words, more women, gays and members of ethnic minorities—and the undisguised subtext was that, if the blue-rinsed dinosaurs that comprised the grassroots party faithful did not like it, a way would be found of forcing them to lump it. A Conservative Party disheartened by a long period in opposition was embracing the cultural Marxist dogma of identity politics, with its mantra that electoral success was dependant on a candidate base that was representative of the group identities of electorate (despite the lack of evidence that such a thing has any actual effect on voting patterns).
The second article of faith, allied to the first, was that, in the wake of John Major’s misunderstood and ill-fated ‘back to basics’ campaign, any implied criticism of personal lifestyles and especially particular sexual habits as detrimental to society, was now off limits. We were no longer allowed to suggest, for example, that divorce and single motherhood statistically resulted in poverty and worse outcomes for the children, and that social policy should therefore discourage it rather than the reverse.
I watched in horror from the television room of my grotty Blackpool B&B during the Conservative Party Conference as Frances Maude, one of the leading Portillistas, opined that the main problem with the Tories was that they had never really come to terms with the social revolution of the 1960s. A battle for the soul of the Conservative Party was under way. ‘Bloody hell’, said a friend who was watching it with me. ‘Last year it was Europe; now it’s morals.’ Little did we know then that, while the former of those battles would ultimately result in victory, the latter would be surrendered without a fight.
In 2001, under the leadership of the ostensibly socially conservative Iain Duncan Smith, I received a letter from Conservative Central Office stating that all those on the candidates’ list who attended the Party Conference were required to attend an annual reception entitled ‘Absolutely Equal—A celebration of diversity’, which was sponsored by the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and Stonewall; and that the electronic records would be checked to see that we had swiped in with our conference passes. The event itself sounded like something dreamed up by Ken Livingstone in the 1980s to annoy the Thatcher government. A more blatant attempt to subvert the consciences of traditional conservatives is hard to imagine.
The stage was set, therefore, for then Party Chairman Theresa May’s infamous conference speech the following year, when she warned party representatives that ‘some people’ called them ‘the nasty party’, and warned them against ‘glib moralising’ and ‘hypocritical finger-wagging’. Anyone planning on defending social conservatism against those that despised their values was left in no doubt that the modern Conservative Party had no place for them. Pressure groups that attempted to form within the party to oppose the liberalising agenda were stamped on by Central Office, and forbidden from holding official fringe events.
It therefore came as little surprise when Mrs May, now Home Secretary and working alongside her Liberal Democrat underling Lynne Featherstone in the coalition government, was revealed as one of the driving forces behind the introduction of same-sex marriage. It hardly mattered that no such proposal had been included in the Conservative Party manifesto, or that it was opposed by the majority of party members: after all, Mrs May and the leadership of the party had had more than a decade of experience of riding roughshod over the opponents of liberalisation.
Since then, the intolerance of dissent which nowadays is so often characteristic of progressives has continued to manifest itself within the Conservative government. Schools were required ‘actively [to] promote British values’—in reality Western secular liberal values—resulting in pupils in Orthodox Jewish schools being asked if they knew what lesbians were and how babies were made, while Christian schools were criticised for not inviting leaders of other faiths to conduct assemblies. Against such a background, it is clear that Islamists will not be the only target of plans to combat ‘non-violent extremism’.
Social conservatives have been treated first with disdain, and then with contempt. The party has continued to demonstrate that no dissent from the narrative will be tolerated, most recently in forcing the resignation of the former Isle of Wight MP, Andrew Turner—with whom as it happens I served as a councillor a quarter of a century ago, and whom I recall as a decent and honourable man—for expressing unfashionable opinions about homosexuality.
So, amid the chaos in the wake of the general election, I am glad that the Democratic Unionist Party is holding the balance of the power. Those who think that the social liberal project is now effectively complete and therefore off the agenda may have a rude awakening: in the Province of Ontario in Canada, for example, a Bill has been passed which will allow social services to take children away from their parents if the children decide that they are transgender and the parents will not allow them to live as the opposite sex, on the grounds that this ‘harms’ the children. What happens on the other side of the Atlantic, soon comes over here. I can only hope that the DUP will help to put the brakes on this tyrannical madness, because it is very difficult to put any trust in the Conservative Party.
There is a well-known the theory that, if a frog is put into a pan of cold water which is then very slowly heated to boiling point, the frog will not perceive the rising temperature and so, rather than jumping out, will sit there until it is cooked to death. I have attempted to recall here some of the points at which the temperature was turned up, and to ask the question: is it not time to jump out of the pan?