I’m writing this blog at midnight: the angry hour. The hour when you’re only awake because you’ve spotted something that infuriates you and – damn it – you have to put every furious thought down. They teach this process in anger management, apparently. Talk through what went wrong from beginning to end and maybe it’ll all make sense.
What went wrong is that Matthew Parris wrote an article for The Times. A very ugly article indeed. He took a trip to Clacton, the seat being contested in a by-election by Tory/Ukip defector Douglas Carswell, and Matthew was not impressed by what he found. He found a bit of Britain that isn’t London.
By the time you get to Clacton, most passengers have fled at intermediate stops. You walk almost alone through a well-kept station built for busier times, past a tidy canteen with a good range of meat pies at £1.50, and past a welcome-to-Clacton artwork constructed sweetly of glazed tiles picturing the resort. A red plastic litter-bin is prominent in the composition.
Yes, it sounds like Hell, Matthew. Not a Starbucks in sight – and car parking spaces that would barely fit a limousine. How our intrepid reporter coped with the natives I cannot say, although it’s quite obvious that he didn’t like them. Really, his language is shockingly rude about people who are – lest we forget – human beings.
Clacton-on-Sea is a friendly resort trying not to die, inhabited by friendly people trying not to die… These are not wealthy retired professionals (almost 40 per cent of residents have no qualifications at all) and if you associate tattoos with youth, Clacton will surprise you. Father Time is busy with his scythe here: I counted 19 estate agents on Station Road, and you can get a three-bedroom detached bungalow for £94,995. Only in Asmara after Eritrea’s bloody war have I encountered a greater proportion of citizens on crutches or in wheelchairs.
The conclusion to all this nastiness? That the Conservatives should abandon Clacton to the Neolithic Ukippers and reach out instead to aspirant urban middle-classes and hard-working immigrants (because anyone who pays less that £1 million for their house has clearly not been working very hard all their life – the peasants).
“I am not arguing,” argues Matthew, “that we should be careless of the needs of struggling people and places such as Clacton. But I am arguing — if I am honest — that we should be careless of their opinions.” So, yes, he is saying that the Tories should be careless of their needs. Because what they need is what they ask for – respect. And Mr Parris can’t bring himself to give that to tattooed simpletons on crutches.
Why am I so angry about all of this? For philosophical and personal reasons. Philosophically, I cannot see that Matthew is a democrat if he thinks national leaders should dismiss an entire class and its opinions. I cannot see that he is a patriot if he dislikes his own people so much. And I cannot see that he is a Tory if he does not feel a responsibility to serve them. After all, the essence of Toryism is to seek to assist all the people regardless of background. It is the Left traditionally that separates people by sectional interest – the desire to become “the masters now”. By contrast, the One Nation Tory tradition seeks to forge a spirit of national community that promises aspiration and compassion for all. Even Margaret Thatcher – yes, Margaret Thatcher – did that. After all, she let those working class people buy their own houses, never privatised the NHS and united the nation in liberating the Falklands. To be a Tory, at its best, is to serve. Not to dismiss and ignore. Conservatism stripped of compassion is just nasty social Darwinism.
And Matthew’s column grinds my gears on a personal level because I, too am “ordinary”. I know the kind of people he’s describing; there are a lot of them in my family. And although I may have grown up into something that could perhaps be described as “exotic”, I’ve retained a deep love of the ordinary. I love seaside towns like Clacton: the piers, the fish’n’chips, the crappy shows (more impersonators of the Bee Gees than there were Bee Gees), the fag ash, the “family tattoo emporiums”, the loud families, the tired old gramps falling asleep on the bench, beer in plastic cups and merry-go-rounds that electrically hum Black Lace classics. It might not be pretty by 5 star London standards – but it’s Britain. Those people who Matthew dismisses built this country. They have survived world wars, recessions, depressions and 16 Eurovision humiliations in a row. They are indomitable – and no Westminster bureaucrats or clever-clogs writers will ever change them. I love them. I love them because I have to as a Christian and I want to as a fellow Briton. We are family. And you don’t turn your back on family.
Matthew seems to imagine that he’s handing out sage advice to David Cameron about how to build a Tory majority, but he’s dead wrong. On the contrary, columns like this suggest to people from my background what they’ve always suspected: that Tories are laughing at them. By and large that isn’t true, but Matthew has come to represent a segment of liberal opinion that defines itself by a perceived superiority to everyone else. And if David Cameron follows that strategy at the next election, he’ll be left with just one segment of the population enthusiastically backing him: Matthew Parris.
Now it’s 12.50am and I must go back to sleep, if I can. I’m still very, very angry. I may well be so for some time.