Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Conservatives Anonymous: I own up

My name is Keith Hann and I am a conservative. I feel better for having got that off my chest.

A conservative is someone who broadly liked things the way they were whenever he or she attained political consciousness, and would have preferred to keep them that way. There is only limited overlap with the party branded with a capital “C”, which in my lifetime has been a force for radical change.

True, I have been a party member and have voted Conservative in every election since the early 1970s, but often with some reluctance, like a lifelong Newcastle United fan renewing his season ticket. David Cameron is my Mike Ashley.

I was born 55 years ago into an independent country at the heart of a rapidly contracting empire, still basking in the glory of having apparently won the Second World War. The buildings of Newcastle were black with smoke, yellow trolleybuses glided down quiet suburban roads and ancient steam engines hauled long trains of coal wagons from the pits. The countryside was matchlessly beautiful and even the colliery winding gear and waste heaps had their fascination.

Family life centred around the hearth in the one room in the house that was actually heated, where entertainment was provided by a tiny, fuzzy, two channel black and white TV. Electronic communication for the privileged was a black, Bakelite telephone, always installed in the freezing hall.

This was also a homogenous and peaceful society in which parents, teachers and the police were respected, and children could play safely. True, they might come home from school with cane stripes across their backsides, but their parents were not frantic with worry about paedophiles, drug dealers or muggers lurking behind every tree.

That dull, patriarchal, deferential, mono-cultural and materially poorer society is the one that I was accusing Labour of hating, in my column last week. And, yes, the Conservatives have proved almost equally committed to wiping it off the map. But I must confess that I rather liked it.

Absurd though it may seem to Labour Parliamentary candidate Antoine Tinnion, who responded to my column on Friday, I did and do have huge respect for the British constitution as it evolved organically over the centuries. The House of Lords as it existed for the best part of a thousand years worked effectively as a check on the excesses of Conservative as well as Labour administrations, and I always felt myself better represented in Parliament by my local hereditary peers than by my MP, charming and well-intentioned chap though I recognise him to be.

As for Mr Tinnion’s point that Labour cannot be blamed for the bureaucracy visited upon farmers; well, yes, they can, actually, and it was jolly bad luck that his letter was printed bang next to an editorial headlined “Farmers have every right to feel let down.” The CAP is a rotten system, but Labour decided to make it even worse by setting up a uniquely complex system for distributing EU farm subsidies in England, and then failing to deliver them so comprehensively that the result has been officially described as a “masterclass of maladministration”.

But, to be clear, all the mainstream political parties have been guilty of failing to provide any effective voice for those who quite liked their country the way it was. That is why the BNP is proving able to draw support from disaffected Labour supporters and, in apparently even greater numbers, from people who have previously not voted at all.

If there is a significant body of electors in this country who feel that the only person standing up for them is Nick Griffin, then that is, in my view, an uncontestable indictment of the failure of all the main parties to connect with the real desires of the people they claim to represent.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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