Same as the old Conservatives

Partying like it’s 2019

“The fundamental question,” Tory MP Tom Hunt said, “is ‘Why Are We Here?’” In the back row, some people shifted uneasily. We had thought we were at a discussion of immigration policy, but this was moving into deeper philosophical territory. Why are any of us anywhere? What is the meaning of life? How could a benevolent God allow Love Island? 

In fact, he was asking what the point was in being a member of parliament. Hunt is a member of the New Conservatives, an exciting faction in the party that believes the country is run by an establishment “Blob” that thwarts the will of the Tories and the people. 

In practice, this means mutually contradictory policy goals and simple solutions to complex problems

The New Conservatives are carrying to torch for the things Boris Johnson promised voters. In practice, this means mutually contradictory policy goals and simple solutions to complex problems. The specific knot they promised to cut through on Monday was immigration. Not, they insisted, that they had anything against immigrants. They love immigrants. They just wish there weren’t so many of them. 

The meeting was taking place in an expensively decorated “club room” that has been opened by online magazine Unherd. The walls and bookcases were painted an extremely tasteful shade of green, as though Farrow & Ball had been asked to decorate a hospital. Any Tories who want to hold events slagging off the government in The Critic’s kitchen are quite welcome. Bring your own sandwiches, and probably a bottle of milk, because I think the stuff in the fridge has turned. 

Not, to be clear, that the New Conservatives were there to slag off the government. They all got quite upset whenever this was suggested. No, they explained grumpily, they are entirely loyal to Rishi Sunak, they just think he’s steering the party to disaster. They completely support the government, but they believe its approach to a number of significant issues is utterly misguided.

The funny thing is, they really did seem to mean this. I’ve attended a fair few events over the years where Conservatives have insincerely protested their loyalty to, say, David Cameron or Theresa May while visibly sharpening large knives. This didn’t have that air. They really seemed to think that their proposals of, for example, big pay increases for care workers were compatible with the government’s insistence that everyone else in the public sector should accept below-inflation rises.

The plan had been that the event would be fronted by TV host and occasional member of parliament Lee Anderson, last seen trying to feed a guest on his show cat food on Friday night. Unfortunately he had pulled out at the last minute. Standing in for him, fellow MP Danny Kruger insisted this was due to food poisoning, and not the result of Anderson suddenly realising that his position as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party made it a bit awkward to be laying into government policy. Anderson, Kruger insisted, supported what they were saying, although his name was absent from their published list of supporters.

Kruger’s chairmanship gave the event a different tone. A kindly chap, he’s emollient where Anderson is abrasive. Anderson has an air of wanting to thump anyone who disagrees with him. Write something disobliging about Kruger, and he won’t complain. But you’ll have it on your conscience that he’ll be sad all day.

Alongside him and Hunt were Miriam Cates, who argued that we had become addicted to cheap migrant labour, and James Daly, who said the country had been taking the wrong approach for the past 30 years. Before anyone put their hand up to point out that the Tories were in power for most of that time, Daly explained that our real masters had been “the Liberal Elite”. 

Who is this shadowy group that is to blame for all the bad decisions the government, with its comfortable parliamentary majority, is taking? Kruger explained: “There is an establishment in this country which the Conservative leadership and our colleagues here are not part of. And that is the establishment that we’re fighting against.” New Conservatives, it is clear, aren’t big believers in personal responsibility, at least when it comes to themselves. Perhaps this is a feature of being Borisites. 

And Borisites they are, even if many of them have doubts about the man himself. They all agreed that the party owed its success in 2019 to Johnson and his promise to bring down immigration. Its current polling position, they went on, was the result of immigration having gone up. Although it seems an odd choice for voters angry about immigration to start supporting Labour. Perhaps there were why people didn’t want to vote Labour in 2019 that no longer apply.

Or perhaps the electorate, too, has been hoodwinked by the Blob. 

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