Mark Steel: Yo, dudes, meet the new Conservative crew

By this time next year, they'll have ordered Michael Ancram to be gay
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The Independent Online

He's trying so hard to appear youthful, that David Cameron, although what his party stands for is mostly the same. By next year his conference speech will be "Listen up chairman my bro, we got some sick policies you get me. Like we is gonna mash up da inheritence tax, so ya castle an' shit stay wiv ya family tag init."

Part of their problem is most of their leaders are the same people who until recently were joyfully berating youth, immigration and Europe. So maybe David Davis will present himself as more Old Skool, saying, "Yo dudes, this is Davy DV representing for my people, the hard-working families of Worcester and Epsom. Me and my crew gonna be bringing you law and order to the max, like say you got beef with a punk who's hanging by your crib, that motha gonna get taken to a place where life mean life, like back in the day." Then he'll finish by getting John Redwood to do a beat box sound while he raps "Boom boom in da mugger boy 'ead."

They've been so obsessed with presenting this new diverse image, you can tell they've grabbed anyone vaguely young or black and shoved them on to the platform. When the arrangements committee went off for lunch they probably grabbed any Jamaican women in the catering crew and tried to bundle them on to the stage.

Maybe they succeeded and at certain points there was a speech that went "Mr Chairman, conference - the milk's over there with the sugar dear," by a tea lady who was then declared to be the prospective candidate for Telford North. By this time next year they'll have ordered Michael Ancram to be gay.

In his speech, Cameron insisted that crime couldn't be dealt with unless the social causes of it were treated, praised Islam as a great religion and called for Tony Blair to "Stop the cuts in the NHS". And they all clapped.

So they've all changed their mind, have they, all these delegates who, 18 months ago, campaigned for Michael Howard's vitriol about asylum-seekers and criminals and travellers. If so, not one party member has explained how they've come to this reappraisal. No one has said "I used to make speeches about criminals needing no compassion, just a thorough beating, but I've been reading a bit of Bertrand Russell and some Marx lately. Well, it turns out our behaviour is linked to our environment after all."

No one said "I was a right old gay-basher in my time, but one night last year, after a round of golf with the constituency chairman, we both had a few drinks and one thing led to another and I can tell you there's a whole new world out there to discover."

And for all the appearance of being young and in tune, on the issue that's made Tony Blair most unpopular, the war in Iraq, the Tories support him completely. The only difference is Cameron would insist the electrodes in Abu Ghraib were powered by solar panels on the roof.

But there's another reason for being cynical about this new Tory image. The Conservative Party was set up by the wealthiest people in society as a means whereby they could protect that wealth. So they can change their mind about the Corn Laws or appeasement or single parents, but their over-riding purpose remains the same. Cameron hasn't, and couldn't, do what Tony Blair did and prise the party from its roots. That would mean his turning up to shareholders' meetings and telling them he was reducing their influence and no longer interested in profits, maybe even going on holiday with Arthur Scargill.

The Tory party is owned and governed and financed by the wealthy. From slave traders and industrialists who shoved kids up chimneys to the champions of the Poll Tax and opponents of the minimum wage, they've stood ceaselessly for the interests of the rich. The heads of arms companies and News International happily do business with Labour, but their home is the Tories. So every policy, when it emerges, such as the commitment to a "massive road-building programme", will serve big business.

All the rest is a means to that end. If this seems a little crude, then even with this liberal makeover, somehow 15 of Cameron's front bench went to the same school - Eton. I suppose that's just coincidence. They must have all sat round the table on the first day, going "Oh my goodness, and you went to Eton, how extraordinary. Do you remember Mr Winthorpe the maths teacher? My my my."

And it's just as likely that, one day, 15 members of a Cabinet will all have been to my school. You'll know about that when it happens, because every pub in Westminster will have someone wandering round it going, "Oy - who wants a green bench, 30 quid? All right then, a mace. And a black rod. Go on - 50 quid the pair."