An outsider's inside view - David Soutter's review of the TBG's 2012 AGM
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By David Soutter.
It is very difficult in our current political climate, in fact a climate that has existed for the last 15 or 16 years, for a political group of any sort to move forwards recruit members and prosper.
Before recounting the meeting I thought I might set the historical position in context so as to explain why I feel we have a long and hard road ahead.
The almost total collapse of the traditional political parties in their previously unassailable strongholds has meant that pressure groups that would previously have grown through attaching themselves onto their political ‘mother party’ can no longer do so, as by enlarge those party groups have ceased to exist.
The Conservative Party had its Monday Club, its Tory Reform Group, Selsdon Group, Primrose League and other policy research groups.
The Labour Party, The Fabian Society, Tribune and dare I say it, Militant Tendency. The Labour Party where also plagued by very many splinter groups with far left tendencies Maoists, Trotskyites and such like. In the late Seventies the left began to resemble a Monty Python sketch from the Life of Brian ……..The Judean Peoples Front….. splitters! It was this disintegration that led to the spectacular defeats in 1983 and to a lesser extent 1987.
The Liberals, The SDP and the Liberal Democrats have been a collection of pressure groups now for the 50 years an have therefore no place in this discussion.
The Conservative Party did not suffer in the same way. Most people, who were seen to be on the right or left of the party were mostly treated by the party centre as harmless eccentrics. Enoch Powell being the single exception; a man, an MP and a Minister who placed his personal views before loyalty to a political party.
The Conservative Party, unlike the Labour Party, has always treated dissenters with a ruthless streak; conform or be sacked, sidelined, or expelled. Even at the height of her power Margaret Thatcher allowed Norman Tebbit to shut down the then Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) for being seen to be too libertarian and too ‘right-wng’. This same organisation had produced such figures as Michael Forsyth MP, Neil Hamilton MP and Andrew Neil. The organisation had many links across the political spectrum, including fringe right groups and even more mainstream organisations such as The Freedom Association. This ruthless determination to stick to the one path that leads to Downing Street saved the Conservative Party even after the massive defeat of 1997 - even if the baggage included Nick Clegg and the bunny huggers.
The MPs that supported this right of centre never fully prospered under he Conservative Party in power, they are now seen or referred to as the nasty part of the party, or the toxic brand. The party I as a child grew up with has changed beyond all recognition.
"the Party really believes in the family, the family firm or farm, the woodlands, our historic houses, the value of savings, etc., and above all, of course, personal freedom, against the all-devouring Socialist State"
This was written by Sir John Stokes in an article in the Daily Telegraph in 1975. Does it hold true today? I suspect that all those at the meeting would agree with all the points made by Sir John 37 years ago, except they would now question if the Conservative Party does more than pay lip service to these principles.
The Annual General Meeting
The AGM that I attended last Saturday was a real blast from the past, had it been covered by journalists I suspect the would have portrayed those who attended and who spoke at the meeting as being the rump of a rump of a Conservative Party that no longer exits.
The TBG exists, as far as I can see, to act as a think tank for conservative thought, much in the same way the Monday Club and the Tory Reform Group did 20 years ago.
What does TBG say itself,
‘Under a new generation of young, enthusiastic and passionate talent we offer a focal point to promote ideas, discussion, networking, education and action and seek to galvanise and lend courage to like minded politicians, journalists, academics, students, businesses and community leaders who share our passion for a rejuvenated traditional Britain.’
Would? Could? This be true? We shall see! Certainly the average age in the room was under 30 and it was great to see and hear from a new generation of like minded people willing to carry the flame forward.
Many people who attended would, I think, see or have seen the Conservative Party as their natural political home. This would be true, but many of those same people who were at the meeting no longer belong to the party and one or two belong to other parties, notably UKIP. Others parties have benefitted, to a larger or smaller extent, from this slow constant falling away of Conservative supporters.
How does TBG benefit from this…by offering what could be describe as a warm cuddly place to express their views, talk to like minded people, and look to seek to influence friends, political contacts and expound what not only what we believe in but what I think the majority of the country believe in as well.
How can we grow from what is a very small core to a more influential and ultimately larger group?
The meeting discussed a number of ideas of how to increase interest in the group and its ideals; to increase membership and most importantly influence.
It was, I think, accepted by all that the traditional method of recruitment was no longer available, IE., piggy backing off party meetings and or membership. There was extensive discussion during the meeting as to ways we could increase membership.
The American model used by Barak Obama, Sarah Palin and most successfully by the Tea Party movement and even the house churches movement in the US and UK was discussed.
These where it was agreed a cost effective method of recruiting members and gaining support, it is also a possibility to deploy this form of recruitment on a village by village, town by town basis, relying upon our own contacts to start with. This worked in the very short term for the Referendum Party in 1997 and has worked for the English Democrats, but it worked most spectacularly for the farming lobby and the fuel protest lobbies. Having a local issue to help galvanize is also a way forward. The use of the internet was seen as integral to this success.
The Kidderminster Hospital Lobby proved what can be done, current topics could centre round what is of real local interest, such as the fish ad chip shop in Lancashire which has been required to remove an ‘internal’ Union flag!
Moving on, much discussion focused on the various ways the old and now new committee have increased TBG presence in the political market place. Much praise was deservedly heaped upon the Chairman for the website and his efforts in exploiting social media. This reflected the other suggestions of how the various American groups had exploited the internet, and other groups, on Facebook and Twitter.
The meeting welcomed the new area groups that have been formed.
Gregory Lauder-Frost announced the forth coming annual dinner this year, designated the Enoch Powell Centenary Dinner, to be held on the 16th June 2012. The speaker, Dr Frank Ellis, is a noted political commentator and very controversial speaker on immigration. This I suspect will be a well attended event, particularly if the ability to attend is extended beyond the TBG members and friends.
Finally the meeting was asked to give some thought the Autumn Conference which is to take place in tandem with the Quarterly Review. Title: Reclaiming the Right.
The meeting was adjourned and our speaker from Immigration Watch was welcomed.
Finally it would be fair to say this was an excellent meeting with full participation from all present, as just a member I would record my personal thanks to Louis Welcomme for a very warm welcome (sorry for the pun) to my first meeting, and to Gregory Lauder-Frost and the thanks of the meeting in general to Lord Sudeley for accepting nomination as our president.
As a final and personal thought; the success of the right in politics has and always be ‘strength in numbers’. If we are to gain the acres of lost ground we need to act as a force to bring all those that agree with us together under one banner. At the moment the centre left is in the ascendancy because we have allowed the fall of Margaret Thatcher and the disastrous premierships of John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to permit the influx of left wing civil servants, local government officers, crackpot teaching, dumbed-down universities and uncontolled immigration to swamp our state services at no gain what-so-ever to the country.
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