Jo-Anne Nadler: The Tory party is the ultimate fashion victim

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The Independent Online

It's never an easy thing to drop into conversation. In our post-taboo society it's absolutely the done thing to wear your illicit addictions, exotic sexual requirements, dumbed-down ignorance and emotional psychoses as badges of pride. If our flaws are what make us interesting, then we do indeed live in interesting times, but even these days tolerance, it seems, has its limits. I've never found it too hard to upset the sensibilities of fellow dinner-party guests, potential new boyfriends or colleagues in the media by revealing my particular "issue"­- I'm a Conservative.

Apparently it's a shocking revelation because I'm not a septuagenarian, matriarchal, pound-sign wearing, reactionary, little-England, country-sports-loving, frothing-at-the-mouth, pinstripe-suit-wearing, socially-ill-at- ease oddball. I'm a 34-year-old career woman, more Bridget Jones than Peter Jones, urban, professional, secular, single and, yes, Conservative.

It's an affiliation that can feel like an affliction. Over the years friends have mused: "Jo-Anne, you're far too nice to be a Conservative." These days being a Conservative is more likely to induce sympathy rather than provoke disapproval, though it doesn't yet have the celebrity sponsored chic of other minority causes.

And yet, while in opposition, the Conservative Party has had no style and precious little substance; its key values of entrepreneurialism, extending choice, freedom and responsibility should chime ever more closely with the requirements of a dynamic, consumer-driven society that New Labour has so thoroughly seduced.

As the biographer of William Hague, I came to respect and admire the man who was capable of making so dignified and selfless an admission of failure last week. As a journalist with privileged access to Hague, I was particularly aware that the public persona, the nation's number one nerd, was hardly the full picture of the man. As a Conservative, however, I found myself ambivalent, and later dismayed, about the image that Hague lent to the party. This was far more than merely my designer-label conscious embarrassment at the desperately uncool baseball-capped efforts to appear modern, young and contemporary. It was, more importantly, a reaction to the way in which Hague's top-line message was so easily applauded by the worst caricatures of Conservatives, those braying pock-marked Tory boys with sweaty hands who make up the Carlton Club tendency and the aged unthinking Luddites who try to stem the tide of social change with a battery of ever bluer blue rinse and intolerant invective.

When Hague decided to make an enemy of the "liberal elite" (of which I am a paid-up member) I wondered where to put myself at future Islington dinner parties. If being a Conservative automatically excluded me from the liberal elite, what was I to do for a social life? I am proud to share many of the values of these vilified metropolitan progressive sophisticates with whom I happily share Nigella-inspired Mediterranean feasts, even if our analysis is different. They may see such evenings as homage to New Labour Europhilia ­ I as proof of the power of the market.

Now we are set for weeks of the Tories washing their dirty laundry in public. It's hardly an edifying prospect. The media will revel in the potential freak show of portly men in ill-fitting suits slugging it out with Ann Widdecombe to prove they embody the future of the Conservative Party. Even though the Tory clan is for the time being irrelevant, it still radiates all the ghoulish fascination of a cross between the Munsters and the Royle family. Mind you, they're both very popular, so perhaps my politics could yet attain a certain cachet, if not complete rehabilitation.

Jo-Anne Nadler's second book, 'Too nice to be a Tory', will be published next year