News of the antics of Aiden Burley and his friends at a Nazi-themed stag party in France made me think about the strange ways some Tories
like to have fun.
When I was at university in the mid-1980s the Tories were in their pomp. My time at Cambridge was sandwiched between the two Thatcher-era landslides of 1983 and 1987 and those of us on the left
felt pretty embattled. Through a mixture of ignorance and accident I ended up at a particularly ‘traditional’ college, Magdalene, which was then all-male and proud of its public school
rugger-and-rowing reputation. I was seen as something of a pinko because I went on few marches against grant cuts, dyed my hair, wore an earring and didn’t eat meat. The college culture
revolved around the bar and the chaps were very proud of a competition they devised to see how many ten pence pieces they could fit under their foreskins. One charmer once threatened to break my
legs when I suggested giving some money from the vast funds the boat club received to set up a poetry magazine. It was that kind of place.
My small group of friends concentrated on academic work and keeping our heads down: a successful strategy for the most part. But I do remember one particularly rowdy evening when I was kept awake
by drunks outside my room challenging me to discuss my revolutionary politics with them. At least I think that’s what they were doing. I eventually drifted off to sleep but woke in the
morning to the sound of scraping noises outside. When I opened the door I found a student with a bucket of soapy water and a sponge cleaning off graffiti from the night before: the word
‘left’ has been sprayed in pink letters. ‘Terribly sorry about this,’ said a very contrite student. ‘The boys got a little out of hand.’ That student is now the
Conservative MP for Gravesham in Kent, Adam Holloway. He was, and still is, one of the good guys. He was genuinely furious about what had happened. Over the years at university we had some great
conversations about politics — he always despised the boorish tendency on the right.
So when Adam was elected in 2005, and backed David Cameron for the leadership, I was convinced he was just the sort of new Tory the party needed if it was ever to regain power. I had great hopes
for the Cameroons on this score — despite the Bullingdon background.
This is why I find the Aidan Burley episode so depressing. The behaviour of his friends is way beyond anything I experienced during the glory days of Thatcherism. Is it possible that Tories of the
younger generation (Burley is 32) are more blind to the rules of decent behaviour than those of mine? I hope not.
The Conservative leadership needs to act quickly to demonstrate its abhorrence of Burley’s behaviour and sack him from his government post as PPS to Justine Greening. Anyone in public office
should understand that it is not acceptable to pay the bill at a Nazi stag night. No. Anyone should understand that it is not acceptable to pay the bill at a Nazi stag night.
Perhaps the most depressing element of this whole episode is the decision by Conservative Friends of Israel to exonerate Burley. CFI’s director Stuart Polak said:
‘I have worked closely and travelled to Israel with Aidan Burley. I know him well and he does not have an antisemitic bone in his body.
The actions of his friends in France were unacceptable and inexcusable. Aidan should not have been associated with this. However, Aidan is both a friend of Israel and a friend of the Jewish
This is an abdication of responsibility. Burley was a guest of CFI on a recent trip to Israel and he has brought deep shame on the organisation. His photo and an account of his visit take pride of
place next to messages of support for the work of CFI from David Cameron and William Hague in their latest publication. But there was no mention of his behaviour at the £500-a-head business
lunch held by CFI this week, where George Osborne was the guest of honour.
Much has been made of Labour MP Paul Flynn’s comments about the alleged ‘dual
loyalty’ of the UK’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould. And rightly so.
The Conservative Party now needs to show that the era of the boorish Tory oaf is well and truly over, and deal with Aidan Burley accordingly.
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