Magazine article The Spectator

In Their Own Way the Tories Are Perfectly Normal. Consider Mr Norris

Magazine article The Spectator

In Their Own Way the Tories Are Perfectly Normal. Consider Mr Norris

Article excerpt

In-between returning from being one of the Daily Telegraph's representatives at the Bournemouth Labour conference, and setting off to be one at the Blackpool Conservative conference, the flu struck me. The doctor said that, among other things, I would have to avoid crowds for the next few days. I thought: that means I can at least go to the Conservative conference.

But apparently not. Even that modest gathering was not safe for me, nor from me. I had to follow the conference on television. Thus the mind went back to the first time I had ever done so. The realisation dawned that it was a Blackpool Conservative conference, and that this year was its 40th anniversary. It was, I suppose, the most famous Conservative conference in the party's history. On its eve, it was announced from No. 10 that the Prime Minister, Macmillan, had been admitted to hospital 'for an operation for prostatic obstruction' - which I remember having to look up in the public library's medical dictionary. In due course, a message from Macmillan was read from the platform. He was resigning. A new leader should now be found through 'the customary processes of consultation'.

The conference instantly turned into something resembling an American presidential convention in the glorious days when it, rather than the dreary primaries, decided the candidate. I had been interested in politics for only about a year. I did not realise that this was the exception among Tory conferences. But in front of the TV set again, after 40 years, much had changed in television.

Part of my viewing was a stupendous Sky TV conference report each evening, which the great populist columnist of the day, the Sun's Richard Littlejohn, presided over. In tone it resembled television half-time football discussions. The two subjects, politics and football, were occasionally linked. 'Like me, you're a Spurs season-ticket holder, and you know we're not gonna win the league, don't you?' Mr Littlejohn told Mr Duncan Smith, who began his reply with, 'Yeah, well. . .'

But the important point was that Mr Littlejohn's tone helped Mr Duncan Smith to give a good interview. He came across as being as alive as Mr Littlejohn himself - or almost. Suddenly, he found himself telling his interviewer that he remembered Mr Littlejohn's equivalents saying that Mrs Thatcher, in opposition, 'had all the character of a privet hedge'. Surely he made that up. But it sounded convincing.

Next, two journalists - McGuire of the Guardian and Pierce of the Times joined Mr Littlejohn. McGuire had the advantage of actually sounding like a footballer or manager, since he spoke Geordie. Of the sparsely attended conference, he observed, 'It's like the Mary Celeste 'eyah.' Pierce went into a brilliant patter about that evening's impending Tory gay disco, to be held for purposes of inclusivity even though there were hardly any Tory gays at the conference. At least not ones who were out, all agreed. They then seemed to develop a thesis that the Tories were not really normal. 'But I saw ol' knobber Norris walking along today,' said Mr Littlejohn. At least, it seemed, he was normal. Like nearly all popularism, there was much truth in all this. And as with most social change during its long history, the Conservative party has nothing to fear from it once it gets the hang of it, as Mr Duncan Smith's interview showed.

Lack of space prevented any mention, in my last two pieces on this page, of matters arising from my last piece here but three. …

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