Phew! No more Tory party raffles
Thursday 24 June 1999
What have I to look forward to? I shall never again be asked to draw the local Tory association raffle (and to put back the winning ticket), or to "say a few words" on behalf of Mrs Thatcher. No invitation to a party wine and cheese (it was hard to know which was the worst) will drop cheerfully upon our doormat. I shall not be compelled to listen to the opinions of fools, with the occasional noncommital nod of the head. I shall be declared persona non grata both in North Hereford and South Shropshire.
Bereft though I shall be, I am not in search of sympathy. In my day the Conservative Party went from bad to worse. Under Harold Macmillan and Ted Heath, the more intelligent were given office while loyalty was the cement that kept the fools together. It was not long before the brighter were excluded and the arrivistes and garagistes set the tone of the party.
On Tuesday, I received a letter that, I presume, Michael Ancram, Chairman of the Conservative Party, was obliged to write by Our Great Leader deeming my support for the Pro-Euro Conservatives "incompatible with continued membership of the Conservative Party". When I replied, I reminded him that, during the 1992 to 1997 parliament, I was suffering from cancer and from a spinal operation which made me officially disabled. Nevertheless, whenever the whips wanted me to come and vote, I was driven in some pain to Westminster where my vote was invariably cast against the Eurosceptics who were combining to make the Prime Minister, John Major's, life a misery. I recount this in order to point out the irony that the very people I travelled to London to vote against and defeat have now taken over the party subsequent to the general election.
It is the Conservative Party that has changed, not I. Thanks to Hague, we are an anti-European party with the party's Eurosceptics riding high. It is even becoming fashionable in opposition circles to talk of withdrawal from Europe.
It is 50 years since I joined the Hampstead Young Conservatives on the instructions of my mother. She was sick of me hanging around the house or going to the Odeon, Swiss Cottage, twice a day. "There will be many nice young girls," said my mother. I fell for her enticement. In those days there were Young Conservatives, a quarter of a million of them; today, they have shrunk to almost nothing. I held hands with Pan, Marion and Sue while we were being hectored by a reactionary senior Conservative of the time, Henry Brooke.
But to return to Mr Hague's recent campaign in the Euro Elections. His "victory" was a good deal thinner than claimed. What is more, Hague deliberately broke the agreement previously reached between the Leader's Office and Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke and Ted Heath. The agreement was this: in return for the silence of the party's prominent pro-Europeans, Hague and his boys would soft-pedal his anti Europeanism. However, Hague took his chances, and rubbished not just the Euro but Europe in general.
As to my political home, looking round the landscape today, there is not much that I find attractive, although I have to confess that I like the look of the Liberal Democrat leadership contender, Charles Kennedy.
Even so, and whether or not I remain a member of the Conservative Party, I am, and always will be a Tory. I look back with pride for having served in a small way such statesmen as Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath, whose vision of Britain in Europe makes our present leadership appear petty and reactionary. The Tory party is an internationalist party, or it is nothing.
I am thankful that my ill health obliged me to retire from politics at the last election. I would, of course, have voted for Ken Clarke as leader, and would not have enjoyed serving under "Sweet William". Hague has been the most unpopular leader of the Tory party in my time. He is the young conservative of my youth writ large, his ambition exceeding his capacity, and his disloyalty to his friends (Michael Howard, whom he left at the church, and Peter Lilley whom he sacked for making the one sensible speech of his career) harbingers of what he would be like were he ever to become Prime Minister. But the chances of that are remote. He could be succeeded as leader of the Opposition by Michael Portillo, not that so drastic a change would be one for the better. Surely I will be better off in limbo?
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