It was easy to feel important at this year's Conservative Party Conference. Young men and women in a big hurry spun and twirled from hotel to hotel, attaching themselves to the power centres like iron filings to a magnet. It was — what are the buzz words? — Dynamic and Vibrant. It was a happening place, and it was easy to feel, as crowded shoulders were nudged and mobile calls missed, that you were part of something on the verge.
But there was a black hole there too, and it was a deep blue-rinse colour. A section of party members — many of them women of a certain age and a certain hair-do, women who could always be relied upon to sing "Land of Hope and Glory" with the most gusto — were nowhere to be seen.
There were probably quite a few delegates this year who were perfectly happy with this — we are now, after all, Modern Conservatives. But I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness at the absence of this much mocked, indeed often reviled, contingent from Middle England. It was as if one had arrived at a family gathering only to hear that a favourite aunt from your childhood — always well turned out, utterly conventional on the outside but actually quite a strong, free spirit when you got to know her — had passed away.
Hated by the Left who saw in them only their parents, ridiculed by satirists and apologised for by those higher up in their own party, the "blue-rinse brigade" — and their husbands — were out in force at conference throughout the 1960s and '70s before reaching a kind of apogee with the ascendance of Mrs Thatcher in the '80s. They saw in her one of their own kind and, by and large, they were right.
It wasn't simply that they agreed with her politics — even now, many of these people, wherever they are but with their sense of fairness intact, probably think David Cameron should be given a go at running things. It was rather that she personified a sensibility, a way of behaving, with which they identified utterly.
But the hang 'em and flog 'em, Mary Whitehouse-loving image which was foisted on them and which they endured was never the whole truth. These activists could be personally tolerant, forgiving and quietly quite liberal minded, an approach which derived, for them, not from learned dogma but from a sense that, well, this was simply the way of the world and none of us is perfect. Common sense, in other words.
This is what gave the Tory party a hinterland — a sort of anchor. Middle England is now largely a country under lock and key, unheard, not wanted on journey — or at least, that is what they themselves suspect. Where will they go next?
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