Young see Tories as ‘aliens’ says Cameron ally

All is vanity? In TV’s Borgen and in the real political world, people suspect defectors.

A Tory minister caused uproar yesterday by claiming that his own party was hopelessly out of touch and needed to campaign under a different name. Is political life imitating TV drama?

To former colleagues, politicians who set up new parties are ‘splitters’. A disloyal breed who, for motives good or ill, damage the institution which has nurtured their career and which formerly benefitted from their service. In religious institutions, when individuals who disagree with the established set of beliefs and customs leave to set up a new sect or even found a new religion, they are branded heretics and apostates.

From time to time, faith is broken.

This week, one of the Conservative MPs seen as a strong influence on the prime minister David Cameron spoke out. He told an audience of young people that his party had become so repulsive to the under-25s that candidates with a modern outlook should adopt a new party name. Nick Boles wants Tories like himself to rebrand themselves as National Liberals in order to convince young voters that they are not ‘aliens from another planet’.

His outburst comes partly because he wants his leader to tempt voters away from their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, who he claims have abandoned their central philosophy: ‘Liberalism is now wandering the streets of British politics looking for a new home,’ he said.

But commentators accused Boles of watching too much television. His appeal to set up a new group seemed to echo the latest plot twist in Borgen – the political drama about a fictional female Danish prime minister, Birgitte Nyborg, to which most of the House of Commons is addicted.

Dismayed at the compromises her party, the Moderates, has made to share power Birgitte, no longer party leader, leaves to set up a more liberal alternative – the New Democrats. Birgitte says, in a telling use of the same metaphor as Boles, that she no longer feels ‘at home’ in the Moderates. Those who leave a church often talk in the same way, accusing the institution to which they belong of betraying them rather than the other way around.

Plotters or heroes?

Mainstream political parties distrust those who start new groups: individuals who defect to another party or found a new one are often accused of personal vanity. Should loyalty to the rest of your fellow-believers not count for more than the pricking of one conscience? In the modern age, we may not burn heretics at the stake, but we can condemn them.

How cynical! others cry. In Scandinavia coalitions are commonplace, but in the UK the current government formed by two parties is very unusual; coalitions are bound to make all sides reassess which parts of the electorate they appeal to. Political loyalties to a long-established party are no longer fixed as they were for older generations. If younger voters are put off by tradition and some MPs recognise that they need to offer something new, that is progress not betrayal.

You Decide

  1. Would a new breakaway National Liberal wing of the Conservatives appeal to young voters?
  2. ‘Conscience is more important than loyalty to the group.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In groups, act out a short drama: either about a politician founding a new party or a religious person founding a breakaway faith or sect.
  2. Design a membership card for a new political party or campaign group: think of a good name and a list of three founding principles or policies to print on it.

Some People Say...

“All political careers end in failure.’Enoch Powell”

What do you think?

Q & A

How can politics possibly be dramatic?
Ha! In fact, many of the great plots and certainly the great plays are about political leadership: think of all those Shakespearean kings. But Borgen concerns the shifting alliances of coalition governments in Denmark, a relatively small country.
You are telling me I should care?
Yes I am. If you feel disengaged from politics, you might be one of the future voters Boles is talking about – at the very least, feel chuffed that some politicians have realised they need to do more and do better to woo you. And then watch Borgen, a hit in 70 countries: you might find the powerful characters intriguing. A university study found the series had increased levels of interest in politics.

Word Watch

Splitters
As in, formed by splitting off from an established party or larger group. This is the basis of the hilarious Monty Python sketch in Life of Brian about the People’s Front of Judea hating their rival, also a tiny group of resistance to Roman rule, the Judean People’s Front.
Apostates
Usually this means those who have formally abandoned a religious faith, but the word can be applied to renouncing a broader set of beliefs such as a political affiliation or ideology.
Nick Boles
The planning minister and those Tories who share his views are known as the ‘modernisers’ because they are in favour of policies like introducing the right for gay couples to marry. Their traditional Conservative opponents within the party think it is the modernisers who are out of touch with widely held views in the country.
National Liberals
There was an organisation in alliance with the Conservative party between 1947 and 1968, and some prominent moderate Tories including Michael Heseltine stood for election under this label. The Co-operative Party still exists, and is allied to Labour. Several Labour MPs stand on a joint ticket at every election.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.