Johann Hari: Ignore the propaganda and spin – the Tory party hasn't changed

Cameron can tuck away his party on a poster, but not in parliament

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron made his own face the apex of the Conservative Party’s first burst of electioneering. He stared out across Britain’s high streets and motorway overpasses with a giant airbrushed glower of concern, while the word ‘Conservative’ was tucked away on the posters in small letters, like a slightly embarrassing smell. There’s a reason for this: the reality of the Conservative Party today severely punctures Cameron’s central pitch – and he knows it.

Since he became leader, he has been telling us “the Conservative Party has changed”. But is it true? Let’s start with the issue that Cameron said was “terrific evidence” of a “different Conservative Party” – global warming. Until 2005, he had never mentioned the subject, except to mock wind farms as “giant bird-blenders” and to demand “a massive road-building programme” in defiance of all environmental sense. But then he abruptly announced he was the true champion of this cause and people should “vote blue to go green.” The influential website ConservativeHome thought the New Cameron didn’t speak for the Party, so last month they commissioned a poll of the candidates selected to fight the most winnable Tory seats. They were asked to rank nineteen issues facing Britain in order of importance – and global warming came at the very bottom. The soon-to-be Conservative MPs think radically altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere is less important than imprisoning even more people and reclaiming powers from Scotland.



But even this is misleading. The party doesn’t just accord a low priority to deal with this problem – most actively deny it exists. The Spectator’s political editor, James Forsyth, reports: “At Tory country-house gatherings, global warming scepticism has replaced Europe as the issue of the day.” Tim Montgomerie, the head of ConservativeHome and physical embodiment of the Tory id, says: “I’m confident the sceptics are going to win. It’s for Cameron to decide how he’s going to get out of this – he’s lost the battle already.” This has only grown over the past month, when a handful of the tens of thousands of scientists working on this issue have been shown to have made a few mistakes. The massed ranks of the Tory party have seized on this as “proof” that releasing massive amounts of warming gases into the atmosphere won’t cause the planet to get warmer. The true message is: vote blue, screw green.



How about opposing the stale old prejudices the Party used to marinate itself in? In his mid-twenties Cameron went on a week long “jolly” to white supremacist South Africa, breaking sanctions against the regime, paid for by a shadowy pro-Aparthied lobbying group. But he says he regrets that and the party now abhors racism. There’s a fascinating insight into whether this is true in the new book ‘True Blue: Strange Tales From A Tory Nation.’ For the past three years, the journalists Chris Horne and David Matthews have volunteered for the Conservative Party, to uncover what its activists really think. Matthews is a warm, charismatic – and black.



Everywhere he went, he was treated with suspicion and contempt. Horne writes: “The proportion of people who gave him a wide berth was around three quarters, and it was hard to escape the conclusion that this was because he was black…. The Tories we met seemed fantastically uncomfortable around David.” Even in the most liberal Tory surroundings, like inner London, there was a “constant, almost knee-jerk mild racism,” where they felt the need to obsessively talk about immigration and race in disparaging ways in his presence. At a typical Tory dinner they attended, Cecil Parkinson said of Africa: “God decided to create the most beautiful continent on earth – wide rivers, fertile land, and every kind of natural resource you can think of. An angel said to God – if you make a place like that then it will completely dominate the earth. And God said – wait until you see the people I am going to put in it.” The assembled party members loved it, and said they missed good old Ian Smith, the last white supremacist ruler of Rhodesia.



When they were campaigning against the Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer, they were repeatedly told to emphasize she was an “outsider” and a “foreigner.” Horne asked what it meant, and he was told: “She’s a Jewess, but we aren’t allowed to say that… So all we can say is that she got off the train from Hungary.”



Everywhere they went, the Party’s candidates and members said Cameron’s claims to have reformed are mere spin to win the election. For example, Ian Oakley, who was selected to be Tory candidate for Watford, bragged: “Last year it was all green this, and all green that… all that bollocks. People just want lots and lots and lots of cheap petrol. And we are going to give it to them.” The book alleges that he then said that he planned to make many trips to Israel where he would take a machine gun and a flame-thrower to destroy Palestinian villages. (He was later forced to resign, ove an unrelated matter.) Yes, there are some nutters in every party, but Horne and Matthews found similar reservoirs of prejudice everywhere they looked in Conservatism.



Indeed, any minor attempt to put meat on Cameron’s professed agenda is being met with projectile vomiting from the guts of the party. When Joanne Cash – a pregnant woman – was imposed on the constituency of Westminster North, there was a rebellion by the local party that forced Cash to resign. They said she wouldn’t be able to have a child and work at the same time. The local party agent Jonathan Fraser-Howells reportedly fumed to her: “It makes me sick seeing pregnant stomachs around.” (He denies saying it.) Cash was only reinstated with great effort, after the Cameroons realised what a biting PR disaster it was.



Next week, I’ll look at how two other forces – cash from the City, and evangelical Christians – are also distorting the Party’s agenda.



Of course, you might say that none of this matters. Cameron is the leader, and he is sincerely committed to a modernized agenda. But there’s two flaws with this argument. Cameron can tuck away the Tory Party on a poster, but he can’t tuck them away in parliament: they will be the source of his power. A leader can’t defy this Party’s core instincts for long, especially when he has (at best) a small majority. Every barking-right backbencher will have to be wooed and soothed and fed red meat to get legislation through. Cameron will be accountable to deeply retrograde forces – and they will demand policies that worsen poverty or global warming or prejudice.



Even more importantly, Cameron’s commitment to this agenda is shaky and superficial anyway. Remember: his reaction to the Great Crash was to tell the City “we must not let the left use this as an excuse to wreck an important part of the British and world economy” and to start preaching hardcore Thatcherite slash-and-trash economics. He told the Spectator: “If you want to know if I’m a Tory, ask John Redwood” – the global warming denying, market fundamentalist Vulcan who represents the ugliest fringe of the Major years. When he thought an election was looming, the Tory leader decided to make it a front-of-the-window policy to give a huge tax cut to the richest 3000 estates in Britain – a revelation of his priorities that should cause any claim he is “progressive” to be greeted with belly-laughs.



The evidence suggests that when he is faced with a challenge, Cameron rushes right back up the road to Damascus – into the loving arms of an unreformed right-wing party.



j.hari@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song  

Ukip Calypso by Mike Read? The horror! The horror!

Patrick Strudwick
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past