I’m not a member of the Conservative Party. Nor have I ever been a member. Nor am I considering becoming a member of the Conservative Party in the near future. Yet I do not consider being called a Tory an insult in any way shape or form. I have many friends and associates who are or have been Tories. Most of them are reasonable people and several of them I even agree with on most issues a great deal of the time. I just don’t happen to think the Conservative Party is the vehicle for bettering society that they do, that’s all.
Many on the Left think that calling someone a Tory is a grave insult – perhaps the worst one imaginable. They cannot see that for most people there is nothing insulting whatsoever about being called a Tory. For instance, if someone calls me a Tory online (which has happened a fair bit), it is exactly as if they had called me a Pakistani or a woman. I see nothing wrong in the slightest with happening to be either of those things, it is just that I am demonstrably not either of them. In other words, someone calling me a Pakistani, a woman or a Tory is simply odd given it is just obviously untrue.
Why is any of this important? Because the idea that most of the population of Britain not only would never think of voting for the Conservatives but would take being accused of doing so as a grave insult, has infected the Left to the point of threatening its continued existence. Take Angela Eagle’s answer when asked why she would beat Theresa May in a general election. “Because she’s a Tory”. To many on the Left, this has become a self-evident principle, the transparent evil of the Conservatives. The only thing is, enough voters to give the Tories a majority in 2015 clearly didn’t abide by this sentiment and there is no evidence that this is any less true in 2016.
Unless politicians and activists who are left of centre can begin to empathise with people who vote Tory – particularly ones who voted Labour or for another Left party in the past – they can never get back to winning power again. This does not mean that they need to become Tories or agree with why people vote Tory. In fact, it would be rather better if they did not. But they need to understand the mentality of why some people see the Conservatives as more attractive than Labour at present.
When I think back to ten years ago, I can recall all the times Labour supporting friends and colleagues would insist that I should not only vote Labour but indeed join the Labour Party. That there was nothing ideologically stopping me; that I was, even if I didn’t know it, one of them. Flash forward to today and what you’ll find are those same Labour members who tried to convince me I was one of the tribe being called Tories by other Labour members and told they aren’t welcome at CLP meetings anymore. Which do you think is a more effective recruiting tool? Being told you belong or being told you are a Tory and you should get lost? Even though I will reiterate that there is nothing intrinsically insulting about being called a Tory, I know which one I’d pick if it were down to me.