The Tory party has become nasty and intolerant

'The trust I placed in Hague and his fine words about a more inclusive Tory party was misplaced'
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The Independent Online

As a businessman, I live in a world where promises are backed up by contracts, where trust is important but where a person's word is supported by a binding agreement. As a businessman getting involved in politics, I knew that trust was important there too, but that a politician's word, or those of his party, can only be tested against what is done in practice.

As a businessman, I live in a world where promises are backed up by contracts, where trust is important but where a person's word is supported by a binding agreement. As a businessman getting involved in politics, I knew that trust was important there too, but that a politician's word, or those of his party, can only be tested against what is done in practice.

My decision to leave the Tory party has been a long and painful one. But I have been forced to conclude that the trust I placed in William Hague and his fine words about a new, more inclusive Conservative Party was misplaced. I know William well, which makes this very difficult. We've talked at length about the kind of politics I believe in; he led me to think he believed in it too. Maybe he does. But then, either out of weakness or opportunism, he has allowed the Tory party to go in a totally different direction.

I have been forced to admit that I made another misjudgement, too. In 1994, when Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party, he talked the kind of language that I, as a young, gay businessman, might have responded to. He promised social justice and economic prosperity. I never doubted his commitment to the former, but I didn't believe that Labour could manage the economy any better than they had in the past, so I stuck with the Tories.

When Mr Hague was elected to replace John Major, I was sure I'd made the right decision. His talk of inclusivity and tolerance was just what I wanted to hear. Today, however, the picture looks very different. New Labour, it has to be said, has managed the economy far better than I ever expected. Businesses are enjoying a stable, strong environment in which they can plan and invest with confidence. For people like me who care deeply about the health and education systems, the Government's own investment plans also have to be welcomed. And as Chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, I was, of course, delighted with the Government's new commitment to arts funding.

So now when the Tories talk about that investment being "reckless" or "unsustainable", and when they commit themselves, as they have, to deep cuts in Labour's planned spending, it just seems to me that they've lost the plot.

The Tories really don't seem to understand the idea that governing requires responsibilities to the whole nation, not just to those who vote for you. Britain is a diverse country, and today the Tories have abandoned any belief in the values and strength of diversity.

I could only laugh when Mr Hague stood up at the Republican Party Convention yesterday to talk about "Compassionate Conservatism". I've never heard a more cynical use of words without meaning. The sad truth is that, under William, the Tories have become less compassionate, more intolerant and, frankly, just plain nasty.

Earlier this year, I had to leave a huge Tory gathering that William was addressing on the subject of Section 28 after their first "victory for common sense" in the Lords. Since then, as I've wrestled with my conscience, I've become convinced that the Tories simply cannot be trusted to govern Britain.

Last week Section 28 reared its head once more, to be greeted with even more venomous and retrospective language in the Lords. This was followed by Prime Minister's Questions, where Mr Hague stood up blatantly for prejudice and ignorance. I watched as Mr Blair spoke bravely of tolerance and condemned that prejudice for what it was. That is leadership.

If in private William can sound open-minded and tolerant, if, like most people, he has gay friends, then either he's dishonest in private, or afraid to stand up publicly for what he really believes in. Either way, that's not leadership, it's weakness.

For months I have consoled myself with the belief that by staying in the party, by working closely with William and those around him, I might make a difference and change attitudes. I wanted the Tories to have credibility, I felt that the Tories' economic credentials were good, at least until the ludicrous "tax guarantee" came along, and all they needed was a social conscience.

Having been, until today, on the Conservatives' candidates list for the next election, I know what I'm giving up in deciding to join Labour. But more importantly, I'm sad because I know that I will lose friends at all levels. Some people will call me a hypocrite. Worse, some people who, like me, want that party reformed, will call me a coward.

I have also tried in the past to defend William from charges that he had become right wing. I believed the private assurances. But politicians are only as good as what they're prepared to say and do in public. I trusted William, and I was wrong. I was being used. This Tory party doesn't deserve the respect and support of people who genuinely want to build a more inclusive Britain. I hoped that what I thought was the real William Hague would somehow emerge. I now know that the real William is prepared to let an increasingly right-wing, intolerant Tory party set the agenda.

There are times when you just have to admit you got it wrong - and boy did I get it wrong.

The writer is a businessman and Conservative Party adviser

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