The Hitch does the Party Congress


This blog is pleased to note that our old comrade Peter Hitchens has been in Manchester this past week, taking in the sights and sounds of the Tory conference. As Peter has long been calling for the destruction of the Tory party, you might have expected him to be unimpressed with the performances of Dave the Haircut and his Unconservative front bench. And lo, Peter’s midweek dispatch did not disappoint:

There is absolutely no enthusiasm about this conference, a weird coalition between the Tory Party’s left-liberal anti-British leadership and its conservative, patriotic membership. You would have thought the membership would have spotted by now that the leadership doesn’t like them. But no, they come back each year to be patronised some more.

I have attended some of the actual debates, which required major physical effort, not least because of the actual tears of boredom which poured down my cheeks in rivulets on more than one occasion, and I have genuinely sat through Congresses of the Soviet Communist Party, so I am hardened – as most are not – to extreme tedium… These ‘debates’, in which no questions are tested, are plainly designed to produce a passive somnolence (hence my jest about Rohypnol) rather than to rally anyone. Enthusiasm is only really allowed for David Cameron himself, the new Dear Leader, and to a limited extent for the astonishing George Osborne. Why astonishing? Because it is impossible to work out why he is Shadow Chancellor, or how he has risen so far, so fast.

In general, during these events, one struggles to retain the will to live.

Don’t hold back, will you, Peter? Anyway, after that, one hoped that Peter’s Sunday column would be suitably grumpy. And indeed it was. I would speculate that even John McAnulty would be hard pressed to match it for grumpiness:

Standing ovations are almost always demonstrations of insincerity. No sane human being really thinks that a politician’s speech is so good they want to stand and simper, batting their palms together for several minutes, at the end.

Often the applause is all the longer when the party involved is rallying round somebody it hates or mistrusts, for the sake of its image.

There’s some truth in that. I find it hard to recall the last time I heard a really good political speech – it may have been Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh, who has a fine line in invective – but I can’t say one has ever inspired me to stand up. One has of course given ovations to especially admirable individuals, people of extraordinary courage, but this is rare. And Cuddly Dave, reasonably accomplished speaker as though he may be, doesn’t fill me with an urge to restart the cult of personality.

David Cameron’s speech on Thursday was a wasteland, empty of original thought, bare of serious policy, punctuated only by rather revolting appeals to gross sentimentality.

I watched Mrs Cameron afterwards, as she was conducted through the falsely ecstatic throng. Her pretty, intelligent face was an extraordinary picture of honesty battling against loyalty. She would force a smile, for the sake of her husband. But after a second or so, it faded away into a blank, embarrassed expression. Then she forced another smile. Then that, too, faded away. And so on, several times. She simply couldn’t keep smiling, as she knew she ought to.

And why should she? Why should anyone?

Well, the interesting point there is not so much does Sam believe in Dave, as whether Dave actually believes in himself. Or what, in fact, does Dave really believe in? We had a dozen years of this sort of ham acting from Mr Tony Blair, and it is extraordinary how many well-informed observers seem determined to place their faith in Blair’s heir. There must be a psychological need in there somewhere.

Elsewhere in his column, Peter takes aim at Liam’s favourite tax-dodging gombeen musician:

Those present at both party conferences had to endure glutinous video-screen lectures from the Irish millionaire popular singer with the surgically attached sunglasses who bizarrely calls himself after a well-known dog biscuit.

If this sort of thing continues, especially after the lunch interval, they are going to have put sick bags out in the hall. But I think his presence and endorsement at both gatherings tells an important truth about modern British politics. The growing millions of us who loathe the pretensions of rock-music moralists and everything they stand for are completely unrepresented at Westminster.

Tory and Labour alike are in the grip of some sort of endless Age of Aquarius, where the only music is guitar music, the only good opinion is a belief in man-made global warming, the only religion egalitarianism and the only orthodoxy is multiculturalism and sexual liberation. Let’s have a new party
where videos of Mr Dog Biscuit are shown only so they can be heartily booed, and everyone can laugh at him.

I wouldn’t phrase it quite like that – Peter is a thoroughgoing cultural conservative where I am not – but it’s always nice to see Mr Dog Biscuit getting it in the neck.

Finally, Peter bigs up an old comrade:

Not long ago, I received a call from a BBC Radio 4 person. It was not very flattering. They were having a big debate about Afghanistan. And, as they were having great difficulty in finding anyone else to support Britain’s immediate withdrawal, would I please, please, please take part?

I said yes. Several days later, the same functionary called me and said they had now found a ‘female person’ to do the job instead – as if that person’s femaleness was a clinching argument. Curious, I asked who this ‘female person’ was. ‘Erm, Lindsey someone,’ she replied. I’m still not sure if she was embarrassed or genuinely didn’t know who she had hired.

Had I been the producer, I would have stuck with Peter. He’s much more entertaining.


  1. Craig said,

    October 11, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    “the Tory Party’s left-liberal anti-British leadership”

    Peter Hitchens is an engaging columnist, and I find myself agreeing with him more often than not, but it’s a shame that he applies his not inconsiderable intellect to defending a “British” identity which in historical terms is very recent and artificial and which is used even today by Loyalists to justify their reign of violence over certain areas of the North (their noble “Republican” opponents are not much better).

    If he were a genuine traditionalist-conservative he would revel in both the shared and unique features of Scottish, Welsh, English and Irish cultures, and would not support a Frankenstein union ruled from Westminster… just as he does not support an imperial union ruled from Brussels.

  2. Dr Paul said,

    October 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    ‘… the Irish millionaire popular singer with the surgically attached sunglasses who bizarrely calls himself after a well-known dog biscuit.’

    That’s my joke, the cheek of it. Royalties please, Peter.

    A long time ago, during the mid-Thatcher era, I mentioned to a Tory bloke where I worked that all these standing ovations for the Leader rather smacked of late-Stalin-period Soviet party congresses where nobody wanted to be the first one to stop applauding as that would be seen as disloyal and thereby earning a ticket to the gulag. He replied, his voice dropping a little in volume, a sure way of showing that he was about to vouchsafe something confidential, ‘Yes that’s what quite a few of us have been thinking.’

  3. Fellow Traveller said,

    October 11, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    When you clap they can’t speak.

  4. Guano said,

    October 12, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Somewhere in the two Soviet samizdat novels about Private Ivan Chonkin (by Vladimir Voinovich) there is a scene in a Soviet party congress. I cannot help remembering it when I see modern UK political conferences: mindless applause at the most deadening trivia. An important point made in that scene is that the people planted in the audience to get the applause going are instructed to clap and shout the loudest when the platform speaker has said something really absurd. If the speaker says “2+2=5” they applaude loudly because it shows that the speaker is so clever that he can make it come true! Are we there yet? Perhaps not quite, but I’ve seen conferences applaud wildly at some absudities and the crowd seem to be getting close to thinking that someone like Blair and Cameron can make these absurdities come true.

    One of the main points in the Chonkin novels is, of course, that Soviet society had lost track of reality. (Chonkin was being pursued by one set of Soviet institutions who thought he was a Nazi fifth-columnist and another set of Soviet institutions who thought he was a hero: meanwhile he had been sitting in a remote village doing not very much while guarding a crashed aeroplane.) Everyone’s hope was that an all-seeing Joe Stalin (in a bunker only accessible by a secret station on the Moscow metro) knew what was going on from Finland to Vladivostok, which of course he didn’t. Do our political class really know what is going on in the UK?

  5. Phil said,

    October 12, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    I find it hard to recall the last time I heard a really good political speech – it may have been Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh, who has a fine line in invective – but I can’t say one has ever inspired me to stand up. One has of course given ovations to especially admirable individuals, people of extraordinary courage, but this is rare.

    I sat on my hands when Grizzly addressed the Socialist Conference in Sheffield, many years ago (his message being essentially “thanks for supporting the Republican Movement, please carry on supporting the Republican Movement, but don’t start criticising the Republican Movement because we aren’t listening”). I wrote a position paper about it afterwards, called “Glory O, glory O to the bold democratic socialists!” But that’s by the way.

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