Apropos of the current issue’s excellent cover story (‘The End of the Party’) about the hollowed husks that are today’s party conferences, I spent Saturday at the 2nd Conservative Renewal conference in Windsor. It was an interesting day, not least because what was intended to be a genuinely open meeting, though dominated by Conservative party activists, was boycotted by the Conservative party’s own leadership.
Organised by Adam Afriyie and the Windsor Conservative Association and sponsored by the Conservative Home website, the keynote speaker was the former President of the Czech Republic, Vacláv Klaus. Other speakers came from a broad range of the conservative grassroots movements including the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Migration Watch and the Freedom Association. Despite the pull-out by the cabinet, other politicians spoke including the excellent MEPs Syed Kamall and Daniel Hannan as well as MPs including Jesse Norman, Conor Burns and Douglas Carswell. Non party-aligned speakers included Roger Scruton, Paul Staines of Guido Fawkes and me.
The whole day was quite refreshing. Real people (including non-party members) spoke and listened. There was a healthy diversity of opinion as well as a refreshing openness in debate. I did one panel on immigration and one on the BBC – and at both sessions members of the audience said what they thought and didn’t simply fall into any one party line or other. We had some good, polite disagreements and the only running-thread of opinion appeared to be a considerable degree of frustration over the Conservative party’s leadership.
I suppose there are those apparatchiks who think such a ground-swell justifies the cabinet pull-out. For my own part I think it demonstrates why it was a mistake. It may well be the case that senior politicians now dislike the idea of meeting the public almost as much as some of the public dislike the idea of meeting politicians. But an effort to bridge what is a widening gap should be attempted nonetheless. For myself, I was reminded throughout the day of the wonderful observation of the late Ken Minogue: ‘We must face up to the grim fact that the rulers we elect are losing patience with us.’