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Alex Dismore: Yes, many Conservative members really ARE swivel-eyed loons

Dismore AlexAlex Dismore is a party member in his final year of International Relations and Politics at the University of Sheffield.

The most surprising thing about the comments attributed to Lord Feldman last weekend was the surprise. The vague reports that David Cameron himself has said something similar in the past should also be greeted with only the merest flutter of surprise. This divide between the Prime Minister and some on the Party right is becoming more and more visible and damaging. It is time for Mr Cameron to be bold and choose the side on which he stands; otherwise the crack will become a chasm that swallows up his leadership.

That a journalist supposedly overheard these comments typifies this Government’s media haplessness. But - and I say this as a Party member - the comments have an element of truth. Take a trip into an isolated, rural constituency; press your ear against the door of a local council meeting. The phrase “swivel-eyed loons” may just come to mind.

I am not for one moment suggesting that this lunacy exists across the board. However, recent events have given the loonies an increasingly prominent voice in Parliament. The Party has been visibly shaken by UKIP’s impressive results in the recent local council elections. But Cameron has allowed the Parliamentary Party’s response to panic and accept the Farage line that “the results represent a sea-change in British politics”. Calm and perspective are desperately needed. 23% of 31% of the electorate voted for UKIP, and they still do not have overall control of any council. This was a mid-term protest vote in which all the main parties suffered. Of course political leaders should take note; the electorate’s concerns should be addressed and questions answered. But answering the questions posed by UKIP does not mean becoming UKIP.

The recent Euro-frenzy has shoved out other important and useful political stories, like Mervyn King’s relative optimism over the economy last week.  When 114 of his own MPs continue to drown out the government’s main economic message with an amendment to the Queen’s speech, Cameron should certainly not be “profoundly relaxed”. Where was his impassioned defence of gay marriage, something he clearly believes in, when it returned to the Commons last week? At the moment it looks as if he’s following the Party and not leading it. Every week he looks weaker and weaker.

But this isn't just about combating Cameron’s perceived weakness. This is about not allowing himself to be dragged to the right, onto ground where he does not belong. He must drown out the siren call of Nadine Dorries, and the mutterings of Jacob-Rees Mogg, who are cosying up with UKIP and talking of electoral pacts. This is a Party one of whose councillors have been photographed giving Nazi salutes (don’t worry, he was reaching for a phone), and who have been forced to deny describing illegal immigrants as "sandal-wearing, bomb-making, camel-riding, goat-f******, ragheads". But perhaps I’m being unfair. After all, candidate Geoffrey Clark’s call for an NHS review into aborting foetuses with Down’s syndrome was proposed simply as a solution to cut the deficit.

If the likes of Nadine Dorries want to stand on a joint Tory-UKIP ticket, let them - and let the whip be withdraw in response. If the MPs who cynically hide behind “equality” in their opposition to gay marriage - after years of opposition to every piece of gay legislation - feel at odds with a modern Conservative Party, then Mr Cameron should not stand in their way to the arms of Mr Farage. It should be made clear that there is no room for those such as Sir Gerald Howarth who think that equal marriage will open the gates to an “aggressive homosexual community”, that sees it ominously as “just the beginning”. Just what exactly is the good knight afraid of? Bands of armed gays descending on his Aldershot constituency and forcing its decent townsfolk into polygamous gay marriages?

The Prime Minister must stand up and voice a proper Conservative alternative: attacking UKIP is not the same as attacking the people who voted for UKIP. To do this, he would do well to remember why he won the Tory leadership. Cameron promised to purge the “nastiness” from the Party and deliver electoral success: he only partially did both. Recent events represent an opportunity for him to approach his modernising agenda with renewed gusto. Let UKIP provide asylum for the loons.

I’m not proposing a “lurch to the left”, but simply that Cameron should reaffirm his commitment to modern Conservatism in a bold and unashamed way. He needs to confidently present the Party as one of economic and social liberalism: a Party which will reduce taxes wherever feasible; one which will keep a tight grip on the public finances whilst offering smart solutions to provide the best services possible. People want a sensible, mature debate on Europe, which is based on economic pros and cons.

If the Government’s main economic message continues to be drowned-out by the alarmist, obsessive and dogmatic rhetoric of recent months, then we will lose the next election.  The Conservative Party must be on the side of working people - but prove it in more ways than by simplyy reforming the welfare state (which must continue, but without the nasty and misleading “shirkers” rhetoric).  Alongside this, Cameron must not shy away from his belief in social liberalism. He must not be afraid to standby his instincts on gay marriage. He should take the initiative and show that the Party is prepared to engage in a rational debate on drug policy.

Now is the time to show the vast majority of the Party and the British people that aren’t “swivel-eyed loons”, that Cameron’s Conservative Party remains committed to fiscal prudence, economic liberty, and social mobility, whilst being forward thinking enough for a modern Britain in a 21st century globalised world. 


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