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Yes, I have regrets but I am still proud to be a Tatler Tory

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November 24, 2016 23:21

Do Jews read Tatler? I expect so, if only to see what parties we're not invited to. But generally I doubt it's furnishing the coffee tables of many homes across North London so perhaps Tatler should think about expanding more into our market. What about Britain's Hottest Rabbis? Meet the Jewish Princesses Taking New York By Storm? Or, maybe, the Top 10 Finest Jewish Stately Homes? (Is 10 pushing it, I'm not sure...)

I digress. Because, these past few days, Tatler has been on my mind a lot. You see, back in 2008, when I was a mere late 20-something beginning a campaign to enter Parliament, I received a phone call from Conservative Central Office asking me to take part in a photo-shoot. Apparently, Tatler magazine was keen to take some chic snaps of the "New Generation" of Conservative MPs. Or, as it turned out, Conservative candidates who would almost all fail to become MPs. Myself included.

We turned up, wide-eyed and pasty-faced from weeks of campaigning in far-flung constituencies, buoyed by the thought that someone was actually asking to take our photographs. Candidates typically spend many hours a week begging local newspapers to print their mug-shot, usually displaying a concerned facial expression as they stand beside a graffiti-covered telephone box or some long-abandoned, smashed-up car causing considerable grief to local residents. So this was something of a pleasant change. Less Ford Fiesta, more Tom Ford.

The result was not quite as expected. To our astonishment and horror, the piece was mocked-up in Tatler as a future "cabinet". I was dubbed as future Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was I initially thought very satisfactory but my Jewish family of course all asked in unison: "And why not Prime Minister?"

What was also never expected by any of us (or by Conservative HQ, one assumes) was that the photo-shoot would be seen as the ultimate pre-election hubris. According to the Daily Mail we were all "confident enough about our election prospects to pose for the glossy style magazine". Hardly. I thought there was more chance of my becoming the local imam than beating Labour in Luton. But so the headlines went.

Seven years on, it appears that the label still sticks. Over the past two weeks, one of the photographed, Mark Clarke, has been plastered all over the nation's front pages in respect of allegations made against him in connection with illicit sex, drug-taking, blackmail and bullying a young Conservative activist, Elliot Johnson, who tragically took his own life.

It's too early to form a clear view on what went on. Mark played a prominent role in the last general election organising the Conservative Party's young, grassroots, RoadTrip campaign which on the face of it looked like a brilliant initiative. But although I was never personally involved in student party politics, I know it can be a dirty business behind the scenes. The combination of hormones, alcohol and, above all, the proximity to power (and its delusion) cause ambitious people to make appalling errors of judgment.

Time will tell what caused Elliot to end his promising young life so soon and what was the reason for the alleged schemes to record MP Robert Halfon's affair with a young researcher. What we do know is that Mark now finds himself banned from the party for life, part of an unfolding story of national intrigue; and, perhaps most surprisingly of all from my perspective, cursed with the monicker of "Tatler Tory".

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has called the story engulfing Mark the "Tatler Tories affair" and has not missed the chance to note that "Men like Mark Clarke will rule over us one day and the toffs in the present government will seem upright and humane". Even the Times can't resist, leading with "Tatler Tory and ex-lover in sex, bullying and blackmail scandal".

It's easy to see why. When people want to criticise this government, the quickest route is to point to the wealth and upbringing of its members throughout the Conservative party. It is, after all, a truth universally acknowledged that Cameron's Cabinet is not a representative cross-section of British society. When the Daily Mirror wants to spice up a story about benefit reform, a picture of George Osborne in white tie speaks a thousand words. Little could play into this narrative more than Cameron's acolytes enthusiastically posing in the in-house journal of the very privileged one per cent.

But the truth is that, while these eye-catching labels make for mid-term headlines, when faced with important decisions at the ballot box, the public tend to look behind them. On the streets of Luton North, where I stood, the vast majority of my 14,000 votes came from white and Asian working families who saw posh David Cameron as a better bet for their household budgets than dour Gordon Brown. Five years later, while Luton remained red, many other constituencies far removed from Tatler-world, improved on their support for the Conservatives.

Now, with Corbyn at the helm - he who won't sing the national anthem or press the nuclear button - even more ordinary folk are going to prefer those so-called toffs from the Bullingdon Club than humble Jezza, the people's pacifist. Because, behind the pigeon-holes, the public time and again choose leaders based on their substance not their schooling. Better a Tatler Tory who will keep our country safe, than a Morning Star socialist who won't shoot terrorists.

So do I regret that now infamous photo-shoot? A bit. I hadn't thought for a second it would come out how it did, or that it would last - and I didn't even get to keep the suit. And while it makes no odds to me for now, I know that, if I were to stand again, I'd never escape being one of those "Tatler Tories". But, like the clothes I was dressed up in, it's only a label. As the public know all too well, it's the cloth you're really cut from that really counts.

November 24, 2016 23:21

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