Whether or not the swivel-eyed comment was made by Lord Feldman or whether it was another member of his core group, the result is the same
By Melissa Kite
Try as it might, there is no honourable way for the Tory leadership to draw back from the fact it thinks that grassroots Conservatives are swivel-eyed loons.
This is because too many people who have had private conversations with senior figures surrounding the PM — his Notting Hill ‘chumocracy’ — know full well that this is exactly how they describe ordinary activists and a lot of Conservative voters, too.
I heard the term ‘swivel-eyed’ used many times by senior Tories when I was a political correspondent at Westminster. It is often employed to dismiss the very people who work hardest for the party.
No one who has on-the-ground experience of the leadership’s treatment of neglected shire constituencies can be fooled by a hastily-rushed-out Downing Street statement denying that this is what David Cameron and his circle think.
Whether or not the swivel-eyed comment was made by Party Chairman Lord Feldman, an Oxford university pal and tennis partner of the PM’s, or whether it was another member of his core group, the result is the same.
Increasing numbers of loyal Tories in Middle Britain are coming to believe that No 10 has little but contempt for them.
Take my parents. Having voted Tory all their lives, and been the backbone of their community, they were told by a Conservative-led administration a few years ago that they would not receive any compensation for the value being wiped off their modest home by the high-speed railway, HS2, which will thunder past the end of their back garden.
A Conservative Transport Secretary visited the Warwickshire street of three-bedroom semis where my parents live and listened to the householders describing how their lives had been put on hold, their retirement plans wrecked, by the rail route. Then he went back to London and called them ‘Nimbys’.
On local elections day earlier this month, my father rang me in a panic. There was no UKIP candidate in his area, he said. Desperate to send a message to the Tory Party that had robbed them of the value of their home, my parents did not vote for the first time in their lives.
They felt ashamed of this. But the shame is Downing Street’s, in my view.
My parents, with millions of other hard-working Britons who voted Tory, have effectively been disenfranchised.
Happy days: UKIP is polling 19 per cent and record numbers of former Tories are voting for an anti-European fringe party because they are driven by the single issue of abandonment
The reason why UKIP is polling 19 per cent, why record numbers of former Tories are voting for an anti-European fringe party, is not that they are driven by the single issue of Europe — my father was one of those rare Tories who wanted to join the euro — but because they are driven by the single issue of abandonment.
Like my parents, they feel they have been deserted by the rich clique of ex-public schoolboys who now run Britain.
Cameron’s chumocracy doesn’t understand my father, a car engineer and former grammar schoolboy, or my mother, the daughter of an Italian immigrant who grew up in a council house in Coventry and left school early without a single formal qualification, but ran a thriving hairdressing salon for 40 years.
They don’t seem to comprehend why my parents should be distraught at the thought of losing the nest-egg they built up by a lifetime of hard work.
Cameron cannot keep pretending the only issues aside from the economy that voters really care about are green energy and gay marriage
As I say, my parents are natural Tories. They approve of the Government’s efforts to support business, reform welfare and cut back the State. They understand the need for austerity. They will have been heartened by the apparent economic improvements announced by departing Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King.
They certainly have no time for Ed Miliband and cannot abide the thought of Ed Balls back at the Treasury.
But the disdain with which they have been treated over HS2 by the Tory Party hierarchy has appalled them. And it is this dismissive attitude by No 10 towards party activists over all manner of issues that is driving people like my parents into the arms of UKIP.
Does no one in Downing Street realise that calling large sections of the electorate ‘loons’ might deter them from voting Conservative in 2015?
It sometimes seems as if no one in the Cameron clique is ‘doing’ strategy. There is no one thinking ahead in the disciplined and almost obsessively focused way that, say, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell did during the Labour years.
Whatever you might have thought of Mandelson’s dark arts, or Tony Blair’s policies, they would not have let their party run into the sand on so many occasions by upsetting and attacking its own natural supporters.
Cameron cannot keep putting his fingers in his ears and pretending the only issues aside from the economy that voters really care about are green energy and gay marriage.
Sooner or later, he is going to discover they care far more about concreting over the countryside, immigration, law and order, tax rates, declining standards in the health service and, yes, the fact that it is plainly untenable that we cannot do anything to right many of those problems without the EU’s say-so.
Which, as irony would have it, is precisely what the ‘swivel-eyed loons’ have been banging on about, if only Downing Street would stop insulting them long enough to listen.