Magazine article The Spectator

I Was Wearing a Designer Suit, So of Course They Thought I Was New Labour

Magazine article The Spectator

I Was Wearing a Designer Suit, So of Course They Thought I Was New Labour

Article excerpt

Once the Tories were the Landed Party, then the Stupid Party. Last week Conservative Central Office unveiled the name on which it will be going to the country: the Ordinary Party.

It would be hard to deny that there was something chilling about Labour's Blackpool conference. 'New' Labour often seems to have Freon refrigerating its bloodstream. The Tories were making the most of this. At the bar in the Highcliffe, the conference hotel teeming with that repetition and succession of massed party members, a minister explained to me: `Blair is not in the English political tradition. All that raving about millennia - it's sinister and foreign.' `Like Mussolini?' I asked. He was shocked. `Certainly not! Mussolini was more modest.'

So that was it then. Labour was sinister and foreign, so the Tories would be English and normal. The driving force behind the conference was that there was no driving force. It was carefully orchestrated spontaneity. Even the spin doctors have changed their name. `I'm not a spin doctor any more,' said one of the younger ones. `I'm a media helper.' `Oh good,' I said. 'A helper.' That was reassuring to know. `Get it?? he went on. `We're real, we show up Labour. "New" Labour is The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You know, that film in which aliens take over human bodies.' I thanked him. That was indeed helpful.

The morning I arrived at Bournemouth, Central Office workers and constituency representatives were mouthing the new mantra: `We are the party of the hardworking classes.' (One thought that the Tories were the party of the hard-drinking classes but, no matter, they could be both.) This was as opposed to being the party of the `chattering classes' - a reference to 'new' Labour, though these days Labour appears strictly forbidden from chattering.

Every Tory did his bit to be ordinary. The Prime Minister even went as far as to set up his headquarters in a former coastguards hut. It was rumoured that a Central Office memo advised MPs to avoid 'exclusive' drinks like champagne in favour of beer. At lunchtime ministers drank pints of Tetley and went to chippies. One might say that they were trying to climb the greasy prole.

There were moments, however, when Central Office could not resist showing off its technological skills - after all, the Tories were not yet the party of the Luddite classes. ' Have you seen the set?' I was asked excitedly. `Whose set?' I enquired. `No, I mean the stage set.' This turned out to be a New Age melange of blue pyramids. It should have stuck to being ordinary. Cabinet ministers looked uncomfortably like they were in Madame Vasso's boudoir.

Then there was Dr Mawhinney. It is difficult to think of him as `real '- indeed one would prefer to think that he did not exist at all. The head of research at Central Office is a bright young man called Danny Finkelstein. Wags were referring to the Party Chairman as Dr Finkelstein's monster. Mawhinney, unwisely, was in charge of producing `ordinary people' for the delectation of the conference. These included a fisherman who had switched his political allegiance from Labour. The poor man was dragged on stage as if he was to make a public confession of his sins before being turned over to the executioner.

At least there was little of that tiresome `vision thing'. It's now the `normality thing'. Oddly, there was no need for the Tories to have tried quite so hard. With the exception of Dr Mawhinney, Mrs Teresa Gorman and some of the Euro-hysterics, they are ordinary. …

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