By Paul T Kavanagh
This week two great exercises in elderly futility hit the news headlines. Englebert Humperdink unveiled his Eurovision song entry, and the Scottish Tories held their spring conference in a portacabin in Troon. One is a nostalgia roadtrip, a superannuated no-hope attempt to revisit the greatest hits of the 70s with a declining fanbase of pensioners, the other is a singer.
Offering an example of privatisation in action, rumour has it the Tory gathering was organised by Saga Holidays with catering by Sanatogen. But despite the promise of parking facilities for zimmer frames, the conference wasn’t well-attended, and half of those who did show up were journalists, care assistants, and the hairdressing team who help Davie Cameron comb his locks just right so his receding hairline doesn’t show.
The surviving party faithful had gathered to discuss the issues dearest to their pace-maker assisted hearts, support stockings, steradent, and the demand that Scotland holds its referendum immediately. Scots Tories have an average age of 90 and are feart they won’t last until Autumn 2014.
The Scots Tories are like a really ugly and unpleasant kid that the Scottish media only hang out with because they want to get off with his sister. If it wasn’t for the fact that people in the country next door to us keep voting for the English brand of the Tories, we’d pay as much attention to a Conservative party conference as we do to the Annual General Meeting of the Leith and District Flags, Banners, and Pennant Collectors Club. But Scots Tory flag waving gets plastered all over the newspapers and the telly, like we’re supposed to think that Scottish Tories are still relevant in the 21st century. More people show up to support Alloa Athletic than vote for Ruth the Action Krankie and her mates.
The sister that the media wanted to get off with showed up in the form of Tory Prime Minister Davie Cameron. Dave’s a meeja star and has his own entourage like Brittany Spears, the difference being that Brittany pays her hangers on while Dave’s reportedly pay him a quarter of a million for the privilege. Dave’s used to hanging out with Obama on the presidential jet, so it must have been a bit of a let down when he found out his next gig was playing to a pensioners’ outing in Troon.
Like all good celebs, Dave’s a high maintenance guy. News reports said the MoD’s deployment of defence resources to Scotland was trebled for Davie’s visit to the mean streets of Troon. So we weren’t invaded by the Russian navy this weekend. Cameron was protected by 2 Royal Navy vessels, 4 RAF planes, a Lib Dem to use as a human shield, and a squad of SAS men cunningly disguised as old dears from the Morningside Conservative Ladies’ Association. Unfortunately however, the squaddies’ disguises could easily be penetrated, they were the ones without moustaches.
For the benefit of any non-Tory Scottish people who might be listening, Dave repeated his promise to think about considering the possibilty that perhaps he might be persuaded to muse on the notion that the Scottish Parliament could have some more powers at some point in the future. He didn’t want to say more though, in case he spoiled the surprise. And he thought that by doing an impression of Des O Connor in Take Your Pick – take the independence money or open the mystery box – he’d be appealing to the right demographic in the portacabin in Troon.
Dave’s speech made the obligatory reference to Scottish nationalists and Braveheart. It’s an indication of the lack of attention Dave has paid to the Scottish debate that he still thinks this it’s witty and original to make Mel Gibson jibes. The last time that joke was funny half of his audience still had their own teeth.
But Dave’s digs at Scottish national aspirations were just ritualistic. His real goal was to try and breath some life into the decaying flesh of the Tory party in Scotland. Even Dr Frankenstein, a Haitian witchdoctor, and a Hollywood special effects CGI team couldn’t get a spark of vitality out of that corpse, so the chin up pep talk of a Blair impersonator in a Thatcher fright wig was doomed from the start.
Dave tried to gee up the audience by telling them that the Tories were too timid. It was all based on a misunderstanding. He did get it mostly right, although sadly his Etonian difficulties with the Scottish vernacular had tripped him up again. On his forays north of the Border he thought he kept encountering Scottish people telling him “The Tories are shy”, but that sentence really finishes with a t.
Dave said the problems could be solved if Conservatives stopped being apologetic. But few in Scotland recall anyone with a blue rosette chapping their door just before the last election and saying: “I’m terribly sorry, I’m a Conservative.” There were no party leaflets saying “Please forgive us. We didn’t mean to be Tories.”
Perhaps they ought to try it. They should adopt “We’re really sorry” as their new party slogan. The response they’d get when out canvassing is “And ye bloody well ought to be!” before the door was slammed in their face, but at least the voters would actually be speaking to them and acknowledging their existence, which would constitute progress. The Tories aren’t apologetic enough, and they have oh so much to apologise for. They could start by apologising for everything Michael Forsyth has ever said or done.
Oblivious to the fact that the smiles and muffled noises from the audience weren’t polite encouragement, just symptoms of weak bladders and hearing aids with dodgy batteries, Cameron went on with his “now jolly well buck up and stop being comatose” speech, telling the party to get up off its knees. Which was a bit harsh given that most of them have the prosthetic ones.
And then he was wheeched off by his entourage. Away back to London to do important Prime Minister stuff, like plot how to manage the news that he’s going to allow a third runway at Heathrow despite swearing blind before the election that he wasn’t going to, and have a lunch meeting with a party donor where they’d trade anecdotes about mad Scots. We Scots have an advantage there, we don’t need to offer a quarter of a million in donations to the Tories in order to hear Scottish people being insulted. The Mail and Telegraph are online for free.
It was left to the support acts. Theresa May and Struan Stevenson tried to inject a note of the girl guides into the proceedings by telling scary stories around the campfire. There weren’t any marshmallows though, because they stick in the dentures.
Then the Action Krankie came swinging in on an abseiling rope. Ruth Davidson’s popularity has fallen catastrophically amongst the party faithful, according to a recent survey by the ToryHame website. Just last year the Ruth won the vote on Conservatives Got Talent because of her prowess in abseiling, so you’d think she be used to plummeting.
Action Krankie thinks that all the Tory problems can be solved if she acts like a student PE teacher trying to persuade a bunch of teenagers that a cross country run in the rain is far more fun than a visit to the leisure centre with the wave machine and water slides in the pool. Albert Einstein famously described insanity as repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Ruth’s plan for success involves repeatedly doing the same thing while yelling louder about it. That’s insanity plus deafness.
The only promises she made in her short speech were a new logo, a commission which would look at Tory policies in detail before adopting the ones London Central Office told them to after it had consultations with donors, and the launch of the Conservative Friends of the Union Campaign where we could all be invited to conservatively befriend the Union, presumably by being properly introduced first, then exchanging notes at Christmas with cute photies of the kids and the occasional postcard when we’re on holiday. It was all as devoid of substance and meaning as one of Mikey Forythula’s amendments to the Scotland Bill.
David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist who’s now a Conservative zombie, went and spoiled the desperate attempts to maintain a cheerful disposition with a hysterical outbreak of violence threats. Something about violence being done to an identity. Not sure how that works, perhaps he ought to take it up with a psychoanalyst. It illustrated the fundamental problem Scotland has with Tories, they somehow believe that their emotional hang ups ought to be our problem.
But news of the conference was overshadowed on Saturday night when the story broke that the Tory party treasurer Peter Cruddas was allegedly offering business people access to top Tories and influence on party policy in return for a big wad of dosh. So much for rebranding and rebooting and promises of new logos.
The Tory party nostalgia road trip found itself jolted back in the bad old days when the word political sleaze didn’t provoke images of Labour MPs and electricians’ invoices, it made us think of Tory MPs and cash stuffed into brown envelopes. That was when Labour politicians could use the slogan “broken sleazy Tories on the slide” without anyone pointing out that that statement applied equally to them.
Del Boy Cruddas was offering a well cushty deal, for a mere quarter of a million you could get into the Premier League, by which he allegedly meant access to Cameron and Osborne and not shagging your mate’s ex-wife and then getting a superinjunction. Not only could you have lunch with Dave and Sam, the Posh and Becks of politics, you could have a word in Georgie Osborne’s shell-like about anything you fancied. Which could explain why he’s always smirking.
The Tories gave Del Boy Cruddas his jotters immediately, and have denied that there was any impropriety. But if Cameron and Osborne are Premier League, that makes Scottish Tories 4th Division over 65s Sunday 5-a-side. On a sliding scale you ought to be able to obtain access to Paddington Mundell in return for the donation of a jar of Dundee marmalade and the loan of a pair of shiny blue wellington boots, and then he’ll tell you what Davie and Georgie want you to hear.
And that’s the Tories’ real problem in Scotland. They’ll only be promoted in a Scottish league when they start to play a Scottish game. There’s no sign of that happening any time soon.