Coffee House

Conservative conference: Tories find themselves on a different wavelength to voters

8 October 2012

BBC Radio Five is broadcast on 909 kHz, but whatever wavelength the Conservative Party is using was not being received by the 200 average voters assembled by Victoria Derbyshire’s meet-the-public programme now held in every party conference. It’s normally the closest that ordinary voters get to the party conferences, inviting frontbenchers to take questions from locals. The results are quite often explosive.

Grant Shapps, the new Tory chairman, was the first guest and was inevitably asked about why he ran his business operating under a made-up name. He gave various explanations but the man in the audience wasn’t buying it. ‘My name’s Barry Tomes. That’s my real name, by the way,’ he started, to much laughter. Barry said he’s happy to pay the 50p tax rate, ‘provided that you lot spend the money properly – which you don’t’. More should go to people who can’t work, and less to people who can but won’t. He said knew a guy who was on benefits, but had ‘the best Sky package’ and goes on foreign holidays. ‘You’re paying all of his costs, mate!’ he said to Shapps. ‘You’re getting it wrong, all the parties are getting it wrong.’ ‘We’re sorting it out,’ said Shapps. ‘I don’t believe you,’ came the reply – again to applause.

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Another young man, who looked about 18, asked what is (for me) the question of the week: ‘If you’re cutting benefits, the deficit should be going down. Instead, it’s going up. Why?’ It was left to Bill Cash to respond, talking about off-balance-sheet debt and ‘small-to-medium sized enterprises’. I daresay he had a point, but he may as well have answered in ancient Greek for all the sense it made to the audience.

Another girl described how hard she was finding it: the training, trying to find work. What has the government done for her? Ex-Osborne aide Claire Perry MP empathised, saying she too ‘went to a local comprehensive school’ and that her first job was ‘working in a bakery aged 14’. The audience didn’t seem persuaded. Perry than said that the government needs to start talking the language of ordinary people – but there was no applause. None came. The girl started again: ‘You say you want to get on our side, but you’re not.’ Later on, another woman suggested that ‘this government is trying to stop people get into higher education’ – a ludicrous suggestion, but one given applause. Just like the Labour Party conference, the anti-politician mood triumphed. The audience seemed to assume the worst of the politicians.

But there was an exception, and one worth noting. Sajid Javid, a new Treasury minister who was a Vice President of Chase Manhattan Bank by the age of 25, came up with his own story. He was the son of a Bangladeshi bus driver, five kids brought up in a two-bedroom flat. ‘My mother used to sew clothes just to make ends meet. I know what it’s like.’ (‘Have you told George Osborne what it’s like?’ said Derbyshire, to much laughter.) Strikingly, Javid then went on to defend bankers (Shapps had been bashing them) saying the financial sector and its employees pay £120bn in tax ‘that is what funds our schools and hospitals’. So banker-bashing doesn’t make sense because ‘if we want that sector to survive, we have to make it internationally competitive.’ Not many Tories would have got away with this. Javid did. Anna Soubry, an ex-newsreader in my native Highlands, also spoke very well about immigration.

Derbyshire then went on to her panto-style list of party policies, asking people to shout out yes-no answers. Do you think it’s fair that housing benefit is restricted to under-25s? Nooo. Is it fair to cap benefits on families who have another child? Nooo. Then Javid interrupted: ‘Is it fair that we cap the amount that any household can spend on benefits at £500 a week?‘ The was a pause, and the answer was a muffled ‘yes’. It was the only time on the Derbyshire show that any of the invited Tory guests cut through to this audience. Keep you eye on Javid: I suspect we’ll be hearing far more from him.

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  • HooksLaw

    So … Happy to pay 50p as long as its spent as if he was spending it himself … hardly a ringing endorsement for taxation.

  • james102

    Considering the speeches at the two conferences and the comments on this blog from committed party supporter I have come to the conclusion that the disconnect between the political class and their groupies and the electorate has one main cause: the immaturity of the level of debate.

    In no other area would this student union abuse be witnessed.
    We have had a glimpse into Brown’s years, with the thrown mobile phones and Prescott groping the secretaries. Cameron appears on a US comedy show and makes a fool of himself. Then we have Boris…

    The party trolls on this blog seem to think adults debate issues using primary school level insults.

    It is as if they expect the country to vote for the National Union of Students to run the country.

    Why are politicians and party member so seemingly immature?

  • Daniel Maris

    I am afraid that Fraser’s take on this doesn’t impress me. How can anyone be an effective VP of an international bank at 25? Perhaps having such young people in senior positions was all part of generating the big bubble that eventually burst in 2008. Javid would have been there in the relevant period.

    Secondly, we don’t need Javid to tell us how big the finance sector is. But how much is it really benefitting us (UK citizens)? Firstly London seems to suck in huge numbers of people from overseas to work in the sector, second it inflates house prices across the capital, third, it encourages the development of a rich-poor society which further drags in immigrants to clean offices and homes, staff restaurants and so on, fourth, it leads to the wrong economic policy (e.g. a strong pound which harms our exporting manufacturers) and fifth it encourages welfare dependency precisely through this lazy idea that a load of rich bankers can pay for our welfare.

    I don’t want hear anymore from super-rich simpletons. I want to hear from people who have some solutions to this country’s problems.

  • Baron

    Fraser, a smallish point, you say this chap Sajid Javid was a Vice President at Chase? Well, unless things changed alot, in Baron’s days even cleaners were vice presidents at similar outfits. This in no way diminishes Mr Javid’s achievements, devalues his views on the financial sector, which Baron endorses fully. The Tories should recruit more of his sort.

  • don logan

    Barry Tomes not Barry Tung

    • Fraser Nelson

      Thanks, Don, corrected.

  • ToryOAP

    Fraser, a quick search of the internet does not uncover any ‘Barry Tung’ in the UK. If this person exists, it is unlikely, as a higher rate taxpayer that he would not appear somewhere, not least on Facebook or Linkedin. Is it possible that Mr ‘Tung’ was being less than truthful? Perhaps a labour/BBC plant? Not that the scrupulously impartial BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire would preside over a loaded audience. Also your young man who believes, as you quite incredibly do, that cutting a few points off the welfare budget will bring the deficit down all on its own. Who’d of thunk it would be so easy? And then we have this nice young girl who believes that the government has done nothing for her. And just what is the government supposed to do beyond child benefit, free schooling, free health, housing assistance, job seekers allowance and various other welfare payments? Find her a job within a 100 yards of her home, and fill in her job application for her?

    Please get a grip and try and look at these stage-managed events with a journalist’s jaundiced eye.

    • james102

      Yes and Labour plants would have shown due respect to an
      ethnic minority politician; even a conservative one.

      • ToryOAP

        I wouldn’t mind reading this junk in the Guardian or the Independent (not that I ever go to those comics) but this is supposed to be a conservative magazine and Fraser Nelson is supposed to be a commentator of the centre-right. How he can give us this saccharine bullshit without a tongue firmly implanted in his cheek is beyond me. I pay a subscription for the Spectator magazine and now all the content is free for crying out loud. Much more of this, and with all the trolls writing every other comment, and I will cancel my subscription, remove the iPad App and delete the browser bookmarks. It seems the only place you can read decent centre-right articles now is The Commentator and even that has some truly appalling trolls.

        • james102

          Why nothing about the report in the Daily Mail of John Redwood’s call for an end to :

          ‘Treasure Island’ culture of benefits claimed by foreign visitors to Britain.

          policy chief Oliver Letwin will be told health tourism, legal aid bills and
          foreign lorries are costing the UK taxpayer millions of pounds.

          cabinet minister John Redwood will tell the Tory party conference that George
          Osborne must go in search of ‘popular cuts’ in order to tackle the deficit….”

          • ToryOAP

            Coffee House update: Bloggers find themselves on different wavelength to loyal readership.

            Statistics from Disqus of the top 10 commentators to Coffee House show that out of 2888 comments, telemachus contributed 803 or 28%, and the top 4 lefty trolls contributed 1530 comments or 53%. Organised and deliberately disruptive trolling? I think so.

            Top Commenters
            telemachus 514 comments james102 492 comments dalai guevara 334 comments tele_machus 289 comments Coffeehousewall 276 comments David Lindsay 251 comments Austin Barry 203 comments Archimedes 194 comments HooksLaw 193 comments Amergin Selby 142 comments

            • james102

              Yes, but I don’t understand why trolls bother. People who
              post here are not undecided voters ,most are supporters of one or other of our political parties, with the odd exception such as me who think party loyalistsare like football fans; accidental followers mostly.

              A few are decidedly odd. Why anyone would insult someone for
              posting something they disagreed with shows a certain strangeness. No doubt we are lucky to live in a country where such people don’t have power over people they disagree with.

        • telemachus

          My dear ToryOAP you of the Hastings Pub, unafraid of the law, pray tell us all whatright you have to try to tell legitimate journalists how to slant their posts
          I agree that the Guardian and Indy are a bit right wing these days however
          Have you tried Socialist Worker?

        • HooksLaw

          This is the problem with the free to air web. It simply strangles itself. Is the full Spectator magazine free on line? But as you say with juvenile reporters – whats the point of it?

    • don logan

      His name is Barry Tomes, not Tung as reported by Fraser and he does indeed have a record company in Birmingham.

      • ToryOAP

        Ah yes, that well known Gotham Records owner who releases special limited edition records by muslims to show they are not terrorists. The only man in the music business who is not a lefty. And not entirely unknown to the BBC given he has been interviewed by BBC WM. No apologies due to Mr Nelson though for getting the name wrong.

        • HooksLaw

          So this Tomes is not an ‘ordinary’ member of the public – he is a well known member of the music industry well versed in swanning all over the world.
          And the question about ‘if’ you’re cutting benefits the deficit should go down…. well the deficit is going down, from 159 billion to 119 last year and the welfare bill this year is 116 billion. In 2010 it was 111.

          The point is if you bring a group of people together and ask them to complain then they will complain, no matter at what conference.

    • telemachus

      What that girl wants is someone to inspire
      Who among the coalition deadwoods inspires?
      Last monday we had the inspirational charismatic Ed Balls exciting the nation with his build for growth message
      This week we have Dreary George threatening more cuts that he appears not to have agreed with his colleagues

      • ToryOAP

        Well Jimmy, the Telegraph is reporting that “OECD indicators suggest UK growth as eurozone slows” This will upset your hero Fatty Balls no end and sort of undermines his arch enemy Wallace Milliband also. Recovery would have been sooner if Brown hadn’t given every millionaire £80,000 cheques each year but we should all be thankful that we have an inept tory governmement rather than the corrupt labour lot in charge.

        • telemachus

          Hardly convincing given the extended scale of the grapphs
          If we now graft on build for growth you are talking

          • HooksLaw

            The graph show 9 months of rising indicators for the UK and 9 months of falling indicators for the Eurozone ( and that includes Germany!). Try again.

    • Dimoto

      I would hazard a guess that Derbyshire is a Tory voter actually.
      Fraser has led a sheltered life – he just can’t get it through his noodle that 5 live daytime radio is always full of the unemployed, benefit recipients, the retired and the usual whingers from the public sector “caring professions”.
      Normal working aged people are busy at work.
      I was quite impressed that a few Tory voters had actually bothered to turn up (or ‘phone in) for this one.
      Fraser, have you ever actually listened to 5 live on a ‘normal’ (non conference) day ? It might educate you on the typical demographic.

    • Marian Thomson

      ‘My name’s Barry Tomes.

      • ToryOAP

        How very pleasant that must be for you Marion. ????????

  • Archimedes

    You know the striking thing about what Javid said, is that he treated the audience like grown-ups, where Perry treated them like children that need to be thrown a bone. If you treat them like children, they will behave like children; if you treat them like grown-ups they will behave like grown-ups.

    Too many politicians assume that the electorate are a bunch as irrational as those on Derbyshire’s show, and Question Time, appear to be, and so they concentrate on out-manoeuvring their audience with their faux-compassionate tones and stories about how they too had a hard life. No one gives a damn if politicians are in touch, they just want to know if they can be trusted to act objectively. When politicians buckle under the questioning of some member of the audience, it gives the impression that they are pandering to the interests of a small group: the vast majority of any audience will never share those interests.

    • telemachus

      Too true Archimedes
      Tory=Paternalistic and we are all suffering because they got it wrong and do not wish to listen

  • itdoesntaddup

    Not quite the mayhem of the similar event at the Labour conference then.

    • Fraser Nelson

      no, not the same threats of violence etc.

  • Ian Walker

    Sounds like the Tory party isn’t the right home for young Javid. It was, a couple of decades ago, but the establishment have reclaimed from the hands of those Thatcherite oiks and placed it firmly back in the pockets of the privileged and the canteens of the true-blooded.

    If you want free market economics and aspirational politics, you need to join…..oh bugger, sorry, there’s no-one for you in the UK.

    • james102

      The Conservative party suffer a lack of credibility, as do
      the other sections of the political class, because fewer and fewer people
      believe they can deliver on promises.

      Some of this is at a sub-conscious level which is why the
      conflicting views that politicians are both responsible for current problems
      and unable to do anything about them can be held.

      Take immigration. The Home Secretary puts out new guidelines
      about the deportation of criminals and last week judges ignored them to let a
      Romanian woman, who had just finished a short prison sentence for a multimillion
      pound fraud, remain in the UK.

      The EU makes most laws and judges ignore elected politicians.
      By appointing appropriate judges ‘One World ‘policies have been entrenched for
      a generation.

      Maybe we would be more interested in a Judges’ Conference.

      • Archimedes

        Perhaps, there just isn’t a suitable metric on which to judge politicians. If Gove is successful in his education reforms, then the fruits will not be seen for decades, and so no one will attribute them to him, and most will be uninterested as education will have been getting better, for a long enough period of time, that it will be a forgotten problem.

        • james102

          Yes and it is the lack of long term strategic policy that
          has bedevilled us for so long, too many: ‘eye catching initiatives’

      • HooksLaw

        Judges must obey the law, not politicians, for right or wrong.
        The guidelines were on Article 8 of the ECHR. Its good to see the point made but the fact that the Article could be overridden in the national interest is well known
        The woman is using her son to stay here. If it were me I would deport her. Blame the judge not the EU. May has said that failure by the judiciary to listen will
        result in new laws to curb the exploitation of the human rights
        legislation by foreign criminals.
        Assuming that law is passed then judges will have to obey it.

        The ECHR is nothing to do with the EU, we effectively wrote it after WW2 and have been members since then. So the basis of your diatribe is fallacious.

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