Parts of the Tory leadership seem determined to alienate their own supporters
By Telegraph View
William Hague brings a refreshingly common-sense approach to his role as Foreign Secretary. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, he thoughtfully lays out the complex and febrile situation in Syria, a civil war that threatens to become a regional conflict. He also understands the importance of growth to Britain’s economy and security, which is why he wants to turn our embassies into engines of business, trade and exports. When it comes to home politics, Mr Hague acknowledges the frustrations of coalition government and insists that the Tories must and will go “forward with unity” on the European question. His remarks touch upon those things that really matter to the Conservative grass roots and to most voters: cutting immigration, fighting crime, renegotiating our relationship with Europe. All in all, Mr Hague comes across as a no-nonsense politician determined to get on with his job – a reminder that Conservatives in office can deliver real change.
It has often been suggested that Mr Cameron surrounds himself with privileged men who do not share the problems or values of the average voter. “Swivelgate” gives his critics ammunition. That the comments were not part of a planned speech but the product of casual conversation will encourage those critics to interpret them as the unfiltered expression of how some of No 10’s metropolitan inner circle really feel about their own party.
Parts of the Tory leadership do seem determined to alienate their own supporters. They risk forgetting that the men and women of the associations are the very people who put them in government in the first place. They are the dedicated foot soldiers of Conservatism, knocking on doors and delivering leaflets. Many give up their time to perform civic functions, like serving on the local council or working for charities. Indeed, the MP Nick de Bois had just returned from a charity walk with 20 members of his local association when he first heard about the use of the phrase “swivel-eyed loons”. He tells us that he was, understandably, outraged.
Nor should anyone in the Tory elite presume that the concerns of grass-roots members are entirely different from those of the rest of the population. On many issues, they converge.
On the question of gay marriage, for example, many people do not understand why this policy was turned into a priority in the middle of an economic downturn. Voters are principally worried about the issues of unemployment and the cost of living. Of course, gay couples have a desire and a right to see their partnerships formalised. But there remains a suspicion that same-sex marriage has been pushed through Parliament not because of genuine popular pressure but to serve a narrow political purpose. Mr Cameron’s attempt to shake off the “nasty party” brand has divided the Conservative Party and alienated many traditional Tories. It has become a distraction from the Government’s otherwise right-minded reform agenda.
On Europe, public opinion is shifting in favour of Euroscepticism. We report that a plurality, 46 per cent, of the British people would vote to leave the EU – illustrating the scale of concern that the public has about the crisis in the eurozone and the slide towards political integration. The Ukip revolt during the recent local elections attests to a frustration with the pace of change in this area. In addition, it is an expression of broader concerns about issues such as immigration, the decline of the high street or a lack of local democracy. Voters are registering anger at the perception that British politics is dominated by a small, distant and self-perpetuating elite.
As Janet Daley writes opposite, stories of elitism confirm the wider suspicion of most voters that many of Mr Cameron’s friends do not understand the “reality of ordinary life”. He needs to address his image problem now, or when the election comes the Tories will be given no credit for the real accomplishments of public servants like William Hague.