Where did the ‘One Nation’ Tories go?

Because my politics is not tribally based I hope I can try to look at the politics of other parties with at least a degree of objectivity. On this occasion, I want to look at the modern-day Conservative Party and contrast it with its not too distant past.

I look upon the present-day Conservative Party as one which seems to present itself, almost proudly, as being the party of spivs and chancers. In my view, it’s a very different beast from the former ‘One Nation’ Conservative Party of say Ken Clarke or John Major and the significant shift is possibly one that started less than 25 years ago.

My Dad, George Robertson, was a Tory, sometimes a Party member and a one-time Director of Maghull Conservative Club. Through him and via my time as a local councillor I have met many Conservatives. In straightforward terms, I’d say the vast majority of them were reasonably comfortable middle-class folk who wanted low taxes, strong law and order, their wealth protected and they could not abide liers, spivs and chancers – not cricket, un-English and rotters are how I think they’d see them.

Obviously, I did not share Dad’s politics but on one occasion, when he had the opportunity to vote for me (as I was standing in the ward he lived in), he told me that he had done so. It led to an amusing (for both of us) exchange where I pointed out that he should have voted Labour as I was too left-wing for him. However, whilst not supporting his politics I had the opportunity to try to understand them. Each day he would read his Daily Telegraph and he’d make remarks about Margaret Thatcher (I think he wondered if she was a bit too soft at times!), Tony Blair (he was far too much of a leftie for Dad), John Major (possibly too much of a leftie for the Tory Party) etc. etc. What became apparent to me was that Dad was worried about where the Tory Party was heading and indeed the Daily Telegraph too.

If I understood him correctly, he feared that standards were dropping, that spivs and chancers were coming to the fore in his party and I think his views were shared within his circle of Conservative supporting friends. To put this in context Dad died in January 2009, so I’m talking about things going on within and around the Tory Party in the years before then.

Obviously, all political parties evolve over time and they, in UK terms, drift around the political spectrum driven by political dogma or events beyond their control. However, what Dad saw happening to his Party in say the 10+ years prior to his death and then taking into account what has subsequently taken place, hasn’t the present-day Conservative Party fundamentally changed in ways that would have seemed inconceivable only 25 years ago? If Dad was concerned about the rise of spivs and chancers 15 years ago, what on earth would he think of the Tories as they present themselves now?!

So where have the Conservatives of the not so distant past gone to? Yes, many will have passed away, some will have all but been thrown out of the Tory Party and others will have left of their own accord. Yet, even taking that all into account, where have the ‘One Nation’ Tories gone to? Who are they supporting politically in the very much changed right-of-centre political spectrum?

Starmer’s Labour Party seems to be on a mission to recapture the white, working-class, right-wing voters who switched to the Tories in recent years. To do that Labour needs to look, at least to that section of the electorate, more than a little Tory and to have a policy stance right-of-centre. But, of course, these presently Tory backing electors are not middle-class, they don’t have the same values as ‘One Nation’ Tories did so is there any wonder that they’ve changed the Tory Party quite fundamentally. Indeed, Johnson and Starmer act as if the white, working-class, right-wingers are the only part of the electorate they have any interest in!

This situation leaves the majority of the electorate with a feeling of being unwanted unless, of course, they are tribal Tory or Labour voters who will continue to support their own clan no matter what it stands for. But look at it this way, who is fighting for the poor and disadvantaged in our society and who is now fighting for the middle classes? If Labour and Tories are only interested in white, working-class, right-wing voters (predominately those in work) then it means other sections of our society are being politically cut adrift but with the hope that tribal party loyalty will pull them in to vote for their usual party.

We are used to the Labour Party swinging from left to right as such has always been the case, but my view is that the Tory Party is now a very different animal from the one it was only a generation ago. Our politics, in general, is more right-wing as a right-drifting Tory Party has pulled Labour along with it too. As a Social Liberal of the left, I also worry that the Lib Dems have lost some of their radical, progressive edge which was more evident in the Charles Kennedy era.

So my case is that the Conservative Party has fundamentally changed, it has lost its previously dominant ‘One Nation’ Tories and to me, it looks like it has very much embraced spivs and chancers. A party where any form of common, mutual or state ownership is deemed to be another act of socialism that needs to be put back in the private sector. One Nation Tories could at least see a place for some public services being in public hands. And of course, the change here is that the Tory policy agenda these days seemingly has the ‘backing’ of the white, working-class, right-wingers, although in reality they are very much being played as the Conservative Party will always be about the comfortable and wealthy.

And oh yes, what about Partygate? Well, my old Dad being a Conservative with standards thought Boris Johnson was a wrongun donkey’s years ago. I think he’d have said about recent events that the man is no Conservative and should never have been elected as their leader. Indeed, I’m pretty sure Dad would have walked away from the Tories when Johnson became their leader, such was his dislike of the man.

Tony McCalmont-Woods RIP

Tony was a Conservative councillor in the Maghull area of Sefton Borough in the 1980’s and 1990’s. If memory serves he represented Park Ward for a number of years until the late 1980’s when a political power shift took place in the Maghull & Lydiate area and the Lib Dems came to the fore.

Tony was also a member of Maghull Town Council which is where I came to know him following my election to that Council in a by-election in 1985. Again, if memory serves, I think he continued to be a member of the Town Council until the late 1990’s.

My memories of him are of a chap who always wore a business suit and tie as was quite usual for gentlemen of his and my Dad’s generation. Indeed, my Dad (George Robertson) and Tony knew each other well as both were members of the former Conservative Club in Maghull – It became Kensington House Sports & Leisure Club.

In Town Council meetings Tony was always very business-like in his approach to matters and I, as a fresh faced young Liberal, looked upon him as a big beast in local politics. I was once told that Tony was expected to rise through the Conservative ranks on Sefton Council but this did not happen because of the change of political wind in Maghull & Lydiate towards the SDP/Liberal Alliance and then the Lib Dems.

I recall a conversation with him at some civic event when I asked him about his serious approach to pretty much all Council business and he laughed out loud taking me by surprise as a different side to his stern character surfaced. It wasn’t long after this that some new play equipment was being ordered by the Council and Tony was very keen that it should be galvanised to make it longer lasting. It then became a bit of regular political banter as some wag would add on to something Tony had said along the lines of ‘and get it galvanised’.

Tony also had his very own political opponent in the guise of Cllr. Audrey Beattie as every now and then they would have a reasonably ‘good natured’ set to over some matter or other much to the amusement of other members of the Town Council.

During my very last conversation with well known local journalist Jim Sharpe, a few weeks before he died a couple of months ago, he asked me whether I’d heard anything of Tony in recent times as he understood him to be quite unwell.

I did not serve on Sefton Council with Tony as he had left that Council before I was elected to it in 1999 I might add.

The last time I saw Tony was a few years back in Morrisons Maghull shop. We had a chat about the old days and he commented on how the political rug had been pulled from under his party’s feet by the Lib Dems and that Labour had now done the same to the Libs in Maghull. How true that comment was.

I was not close to Tony but I hope my recollections and memories of him, if only at the margins, illustrate the man, the politician and the local councillor.