A stranger in a strange land

 Anthropological notes from the Tory conference

Artillery Row

As a first time Conservative Party Conference attendee, there are more than a few anthropological oddities on display. The sort of person who willingly drags themselves to Birmingham to spend three nights in a vastly overpriced budget hotel despite train strikes and screaming protestors is a special sort, rarely found in normal society. These are my notes on this most peculiar tribe.

My first observations were made at Euston station yesterday afternoon. If you are going to Conservative Conference, you don’t need to pay attention to the platform announcements. Instead, you want to watch out for the mad rush that follows them. The crackling of the tannoy was followed by a stampede of bespectacled men, like a tanless version of the Lion King. A football away day, but for politics nerds. God save us all. Swept from the concourse to a seat, I was at least on my way.

Or I would have been, if not for the delights of British rail. First we were kicked off the train and shuffled onto a new one. Then we were held. Then they threatened to send us back to the previous station, before eventually going forward again. While I played chess with friends from the Spectator, a former Cabinet Minister sat opposite grew steadily more frustrated before bailing out to get a taxi from the next station. If only he knew someone who had a chance to improve British infrastructure over the last decade!

We can call this type “rugby tories”

Meanwhile, events at Conference were proceeding in fine fashion. Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng were starting to think that cutting the 45p tax rate might not be the best idea. Unfortunately, nobody appeared to have told Party Chairman Jake Berry, who was busy threatening to withdraw the whip from MPs who voted against it. As an added bonus, Berry had told interviewers that people feeling the pinch should simply cut spending or get a better job, while a young Tory had got himself into trouble by describing Birmingham as a “dump”.

All this meant that the atmosphere around the Conference was nicely febrile that morning. While I was safely wondering how to respond to a Queen’s pawn opening. In hindsight, something of a victory. Arriving in Birmingham, I quickly realised just how cruel the ‘dump’ jibe had been; looking at the rows of concrete, I could see this was a city that had clearly suffered cruelly at the hands of the German bombers.

And indeed it did, but as Ed West and John Myers have pointed out much of the damage was done by post-war planners. Given that bombing London turned out to increase its long term GDP by improving density, I do wonder if we might persuade the Luftwaffe to engage in some targeted destruction of the worst brutalist carbuncles in recompense for their past misdeeds.

I’d expected the convention centre to be filled with mournful, veiled figures, appropriately decked out in sackcloth and ashes. Instead everyone was surprisingly chipper, although circling with a decidedly vulturelike air around the remaining charging sockets. Crowd-watching proved a useful experience, enabling the identification of three distinct evolutionary stages of the “young tory”.

Freds actually do work in politics

The first stage is the “actually young Tory”, aged 17-21, wearing a blue suit that doesn’t quite fit (probably from Burton), and divided into two subtypes. The first is well-built, keen on sports, sporting a neat short haircut, and will eventually work in finance or some other parasitic industry leeching off the labour of the working man. We can call this type “rugby tories”. The second is pale, frail, and desperately wants to work in politics. They travel in packs for protection from predators — a wise idea at conference — and aggressively network with any vaguely important looking individual separated from the greater mass. We can call this type “sicknote tories”.

If the sicknote tory survives to adulthood, he will eventually evolve into what we can term the “Fred”. Freds actually do work in politics, are immaculately dressed in suits which now fit perfectly, have neat hair, square features, and thick framed spectacles. They buzz around in highly efficient manner, shepherding their charges from meeting to meeting, briefly interfacing with other Freds, and generally keeping the party operating.

Finally, if successful, the Fred will evolve into a Jacob. Jacobs do not necessarily occupy a seat in Parliament, but are generally senior, sobre men. Their suits curiously become baggy again, in a sort of status signal not akin to a peacock’s tail (the health of a Jacob can be measured by the quantity of material used).

These observations make up the bulk of my first day’s field notes. Future copy will focus on the curious greeting habits of the tribe, and possibly their interesting custom of ritually sacrificing leaders.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover