I read a recent article in the Guardian that provides yet another example of the unreconstructed nature of “David Cameron’s Conservatives”. It was about the so-called “Conservative Madrasa” – the Young Britons Foundation; an offshoot from the official Conservative Future group, who offer training for young members and candidates, and whose leader, Donal Blaney, comes out with such policy gems as scrapping the NHS and announcing that waterboarding is acceptable.
They’re essentially yet another group of unreconstructed Thatcherite Conservatives, perhaps more evidence of the potential fate that awaits the Tories, similar to that of the Republican Party in the USA where the lunatic fringe has taken such a hold.
What’s astonishing is not the fact that there is a young Conservative group with such extreme views – the cynic in me would point out that Cameron’s ‘modernisation’ project for the Tories only ever went as far as detoxifying the brand, not the party – it’s that the party itself would embrace the group so heartily as if no one would find out.
Several key figures in the Conservative Party have endorsed the group by making speeches for them, including Party Chairman, Eric Pickles, and Shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox.
It has only been when the Guardian exposed the group that the Tories have now moved to distance themselves from the YBF, a move that is too little, too late when it obviously only comes only once the link has been exposed.
Furthermore, a Conservative Party organiser, James Cutts, has actually resigned over the party claiming they have never sent people to the group for training. Cutts, who acts as spokesman for the east midlands division of Conservative Future, has claimed that the Tory party HQ’s denial of using the group for training is totally fabricated, and that he’s been encouraged to send party members for training many times at a cost of hundreds of pounds a time.
The fact that the Tories are willing to lie to avoid having their links with the group exposed shows how shallow their ‘reconstruction’ really is. A genuine change in the party would have required no lie in the first place, because a truly modern, centre-right Tory party would not have anything to do with such a group, let alone encourage candidates to go there for training.
A similar tale of the unreconstructed nature of the Conservative Party, that clearly runs from the old guard through to the new recruits, showed itself at the Oxford Students Conservative group, where during an election husting last year candidates had to tell ‘the most racist joke they know‘, so naturally they happily obliged with someone making a joke about a black man “hanging from the family tree”.
When the university found out they disassociated from the group sharpish. However, the same year, numerous high profile Tories such as Michael Howard, Michael Gove and William Hague all spoke at the group, despite its history of outrageous behaviour.
What I don’t really understand is how Cameron and his team thought they’d get away with such links; I can’t believe it’s just a simple lack of experience. Nor do I want to fall back on the stereotypical “it’s their born to rule attitude that makes them think they can waltz along and do as they please” even though both may play a small, subconscious part in my motivation for writing this.
Rather, I think it reveals just how skin-deep Cameron’s modernisation project goes with his own party. He was lambasted for failing to take on his party over the grammar school row years ago, and now after nearly four and a half years as leader of his own party his own young members are revealing themselves to be no different in their views than the old Thatcherite rearguard of his own party who Cameron is desperate to keep quiet in the run up to the election lest the public decide that his party are the ‘same old Tories’ and the whole modernisation project falls apart.
The real question to me is whether or not Cameron actually wants to properly modernise his party. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson truly did want to modernise their party because they believed it didn’t accurately reflect the concerns of the public and therefore would never be fit to govern unless the views of the party changed to reflect that. David Cameron clearly understands the first part of that belief, but doesn’t want to follow through with the necessary second part.
Is that because his own views chime more closely with that of the unreconstructed section of his party than he’d have us believe, or because he simply doesn’t have the power to modernise his party when such large parts of it refuse to be modernised?
Alex Ross is the Campaigns Officer for West Yorkshire Young Labour. If you want to get involved with West Yorkshire Young Labour you can email us email@example.com or visit our website. You can also follow us on Twitter at @WYYoungLabour.