Throughout my 52 years as a Tory activist, I was resolutely on the moderate wing of the Conservative Party. While I am no longer a member, I remain an unflinching One Nation Conservative. Sadly, the Tory leadership contest along with the new prime minister and her government, fill me with deep dismay.
Never in my long time in politics can I remember Tory moderates being so marginalised.
In the leadership race, Jeremy Hunt and Tom Tugendhat mustered fewer than 50 votes between them from fellow MPs – a derisory performance. The new cabinet contains just two One Nation Conservatives: Tugendhat (though he is not a full member) and Robert Buckland (Welsh Secretary).
What started under Boris Johnson has continued under Liz Truss. Tory right wingers are given the meaty ministerial jobs: Tory moderates are left with the gristle.
‘Pinko’ and ‘wet’
My One Nation Conservative credentials are, I believe, impeccable.
I joined the party in 1968. Often, I was considered and called a ‘socialist’ or a ‘pinko’, but managed to brush aside these jibes to become chair of a Tory association and the deputy leader of Stratford district council for four years.
In the 1970s, I was also national secretary of the Tory Reform Group – the home for those ‘supporting moderate progressive Conservatism’. I even wrote a Penguin book attacking Thatcherism.
I naturally aligned myself with Tory ‘wets’ such as Ken Clarke, Ian Gilmour, Peter Walker and Chris Patten – voices who counted, even during the Thatcher years, round the cabinet table.
Where is the moderate Tory voice?
Which Tory moderates count now? The brutal answer is ‘none’.
The voices that mattered most under Johnson were those of Priti Patel, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Raab, Iain Duncan Smith, Steve Baker and Liz Truss. The voices Truss will most heed will be those of Suella Braverman, Thérèse Coffey, James Cleverly, Rees-Mogg, Kwasi Kwarteng and Duncan Smith.
None of these are members of the One Nation caucus of Conservative MPs and peers. Several were members of the European Research Group.
I resigned from the Conservative Party for three reasons.
- One, the decision to implement the outcome of what should have been an advisory-only referendum on EU membership.
- Two, the election of Johnson.
- Three, the elevation of hard right wingers, such as Rees-Mogg and Patel, into the cabinet while Clarke, Michael Heseltine, David Gauke and other moderates were kicked out of the party.
Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that the Truss has stuffed her cabinet to the gills with hardline right wingers and zealots – although there are some. But no Tory prime minister in my political lifetime has put so many on the Tory right into their top team as first Johnson and now Truss.
And no Tory cabinet in my memory – including Margaret Thatcher’s – has had fewer One Nation Conservatives than that appointed by Truss.
Political heavyweights needed
This leaves a question mark over One Nation Conservatism.
Clarke and Heseltine have, understandably given they’re in their 80s, effectively left frontline politics. So have former Home Secretary Amber Rudd (who quit as an MP in 2019), David Gauke (who takes pot shots at the government from the sidelines,) Rory Stewart, Oliver Letwin and Alistair Burt. I could go on.
There are around 50 MPs in the One Nation caucus in parliament. But none are figures of substance – political heavyweights with real clout. As a consequence, without serious challenge, the Tory right’s grip on the party, the government and policy continues to tighten inexorably.