Wot, no Tories?

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The Independent Online
Outside the ranks of die-hard party activists, it is hard to find people who admit that they are going to vote Tory. I am suspicious: the cunning Conservative foxes have gone to earth. The only question now is how many Tories are lying? They are certainly lying low.

One suave and urbane Tory MP waved his hand in the air and said: "Wait and see, my dear. Come the day, they'll be there, creeping out of the woodwork. I mean, can you imagine anything more unfashionable than admitting you vote Tory now?" With a higher-than-usual number of Don't Knows and more waverers than ever, the Tories put all their hopes in a secret horde of Conservative voters too embarrassed to admit it.

I went on a Tory hunt, not so easy as you might think. Are they an endangered species or have they gone into hiding? Gone is the old Eighties triumphalism: to be Tory is to belong to an underground sect these days. I tried about 20 Home Counties golf clubs and country clubs, but they said No, thanks most awfully, but they didn't think their members would like to talk about their politics, a bit personal, a bit private. Sorree!

Someone suggested the Friends' coffee room at the Royal Academy, gathering place for the tweedy county set. But the county set up from Sussex and Hampshire turned out to be mainly decent sorts, who said they'd vote Lib Dem or Labour, apart from one old Tory buffer from Tunbridge Wells too deaf to argue with. Maybe they were being foxy, but no one owned up to voting Tory.

Across the road in Fortnum & Mason, three Surrey matrons had just lunched at the soda fountain. Coiffed like cappuccinos, Chanel-suited, with Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags, surely they must be Tories? "No, I'm for the Referendum Party, absolutely." Why? "Because we don't want to be ruled by foreigners." (Like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci?) "I don't want Europe controlling our money, telling us what to do." As her two friends nod in agreement, I ask what they are going to vote? With a curious little sound in their throats they say they haven't decided yet. What did they vote last time? Well, Tory. So why aren't they sure this time? "Oh I do think John Major's such an awfully weak man." Could they ever imagine voting Labour? "Um, pass. Well, maybe. Don't know." Those are classic foxy Conservative votes. But if you are into Galliano and Armani, would you be seen dead wearing anything as unfashionable as public support for John Major?

Every seasoned canvasser will tell you there is a natural tendency among Tories to be reticent about their views: after all they have a lot to be reticent about. If someone on the doorstep says, "I'm afraid I prefer not to discuss my politics," you can always mark them down as a Tory. Now the foxy voters are saying, "Well actually, I'll make my mind up a bit nearer the time," but you can bet they are dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives, as are the "I'll read all the leaflets and then make up my mind."

What of the maddening women who say, "Oh, you'll have to talk to my husband about politics"? They are the ones whose only rebellious act in their lives is to sneak into the polling booth and place their X malevolently in the Tory box just to spite their Labour-voting husbands: recent research shows more women vote Conservative and their husbands usually don't know it.

So, hunting for Tories in the richest places, I sauntered through the Burlington Arcade where three young sharp-suited City types were standing by a window full of pastel striped shirts. One, in a tie covered in coy little pigs, said: "Put it this way, I've got a swingeing great bet on Labour." Yes, but how will you vote? "Ah, well, frankly I haven't quite made up my mind." What, you really might vote Labour? Faint snickering from his two friends. "Well, yes, actually, I might well," he said with a hint of bravado. Fat chance, they were Tories to a man.

Even in Harrods, in the splendour of the mighty food halls, hunting down self-confessed Tories was surprisingly difficult. "Oh I couldn't say," said a trilby-hatted racing man queuing for smoked salmon beside the fish display. At the chocolate counter a lady buying five fat boxes said: "Vote Conservative? I really haven't thought about it yet."

Finally, at the charcuterie counter, triumph! There were two couples down from Tring for the day who all admitted they would vote Conservative. "But don't give our names, will you?" Why not? "Well, we wouldn't want everyone knowing our politics." Are you embarrassed by voting Conservative, then? "No, it's just not very nice to talk about." So why were they voting Conservative? Europe, smarmy Blair, union peril and general Labour untrustworthiness, they listed dutifully - good solid national-interest issues.

But what about tax? Here the conversation ignited: "Labour will tax us blue in the face as soon as they get in!" said the managing director of a contract cleaning company. "Remember being taxed till the pips squeaked? Ninety bloody per cent top rate! It would be the same all over again!" His wife said: "We've talked about selling up and going abroad if it happens again." Can I quote you? "Not my name, no." Why not, are you ashamed? "People might take the wrong meaning." What would that be?

The other husband, also in the contract cleaning business, stepped in here. "Look here," he said, "I know where you're coming from. You want to make us look greedy and selfish, don't you?" Well, OK, so what does he think about the poor, the unemployed, the yawning gap the Tories created between people like us here in Harrods and people like them begging outside the door? "Don't give me that hogwash! I worked for everything I got and I deserve to keep it. I never had a silver spoon. I'm sick to death of the victims everywhere. I've got jobs I can't fill, so where are the so- called unemployed?" Cleaning contractors are not noted for generosity, and I was about to ask what he paid, but his wife pulled on his arm and said it was definitely time to move on, so much to do, nice meeting you and sorry to rush away. So off they went, rather hurriedly.

Sometimes it's hard to be a Tory. At the mention of John Major's name, most of them seem to behave like St Peter when the cock crew. Certain though Labour looks of winning, expect a sizeable army of Tories to slink back into their old habits, whatever they say or don't say in public now.

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