When you are not a part of the Tory tribe there are certain subjects you worry about mentioning as journalist, whether it’s at a Conservative Party conference, or indeed, on a blog for the Spectator. One is Europe, another is immigration and a third is multiculturalism. These three interlocking bogies drive the Tory grassroots and emerge, from time to time, to trouble the party leadership. The views of constituency activists on these issues (and people who like to comment on the Spectator site) can be fruity, but I have been talking to Tories for long enough to know that they can be genuinely passionate about this stuff.
It was once a mantra of the Tory modernisers that dog-whistle politics was a mug’s game, as most people knew what the Conservatives thought on subjects such as crime and immigration. The process of detoxification led these issues to slip out of polite conversation during the early years of the Cameron era. Even Europe came to be seen as a distraction. The Prime Minister may yet pay a heavy price for this strategy and conference season will be a real test, but I believe it was a genuine attempt to save his party from its least attractive instincts.
This brings me to Aidan Burley, a man who thinks that it’s fine to knock around with people who dress as Nazis. So comprehensive was his humiliation after this incident that some people around Westminster actually began to feel sorry for him. No longer. Last week he decided to embarrass himself on an international stage with his comments on Twitter about the Olympics opening ceremony and multiculturalism.
It is tempting at this stage to say to my friends on the right: ‘We’ll have Danny Boyle and you can keep Aidan Burley’. But that would be a cheap shot. It is much more serious for David Cameron if the perception grows that Burley more accurately represents the instincts of his party than the Prime Minister. Every party has its clowns and I have highlighted the antics of Pippa Bartolotti, who is standing for the Green Party leadership, in my Jewish Chronicle column this week. I also understand that definitions of ‘multiculturalism’ have such a range – stretching from cultural separatism to living together in peace and harmony – that it can mean almost anything.
A week on from the Olympic opening ceremony, the full scale of the stupidity of Aidan Burley’s comments is now making itself clear. Team GB is the best kind of multiculturalism in action. Modern Britain has cheered home a German-born cyclist with a distinctly Teutonic accent and is preparing to celebrate an asylum seeker from Somalia as our greatest ever long-distance runner. Meanwhile, are you Tories thinking what Aidan Burley was thinking? If you want to win the next election, I hope for your own sake you are not.