On September 27th 2013, I purchased the domain UniteTheRight.com, in line with a plan formulated by myself and commentator Toby Young, to bring together UKIP and Conservative Party voters in order to keep Labour out at the May 2015 General Election.
Don’t blame me. I was at the time still pretty naive to the great establishment stitch-up that continues to prove that you can’t put a fag paper between the two major parties nowadays, as a colleague recently noted; the great philosophical divide between the two seems to be a mere five per cent on the top rate of tax.
The plan would have, ideally, seen some Tories standing down to give way to UKIP MPs who at the time looked like they had a greater chance of winning the seat in question. This then changed to a more watered down vote-swapping idea, and eventually, took a turn towards being called “Country Before Party”, which I’m sure Toby Young saw as a call for UKIP voters for vote Tory, and which I saw as urging Tory voters to vote UKIP. Yes, you guessed it, we hadn’t really thought it through very well.
The conversations went on over e-mail, over the course of a few months, and unilaterally, Toby kept announcing changes to the campaign via his Spectator blog without informing any of the rest of us working on the project. A project which I initially laid out £1000 towards. It became StopLabour.org for a while, then, as I say, Country Before Party.
And he didn’t want it to be a small-c conservative project either. I suggested the website be emblazoned with this quote from Lady Thatcher from 1987:
“Remember how we had all been lectured about political impossibility? You couldn’t be a Conservative, and sound like a Conservative, and win an election—they said. And you certainly couldn’t win an election and then act like a Conservative and win another election. And—this was absolutely beyond dispute—you couldn’t win two elections and go on behaving like a Conservative, and yet win a third election. Don’t you harbour just the faintest suspicion that somewhere along the line something went wrong with that theory?”
Young rebuffed me. Apparently this meant that we would have to refuse to endorse candidates like Ken Clarke (my dream scenario!). He wrote back to me: “I’m a bit wary of using that Thatcher quote because it makes it sound as though we’re anti-Dave”.
But then, what was completely inevitable happened. I wish I had foreseen it. But I was busy trying to build a new project myself at the time, so I didn’t give it the requisite thought. I got a call from Toby Young, who said: “I think we’re going to have to put the whole thing on hold.”
I asked why. Surely we needed a long run up at keeping Ed Miliband away from Downing Street. The data gathering, the mass e-mail campaigns, the social media stuff… it all needed time, and we didn’t have that long until the election.
“Yeah, sorry…” he continued. “It’s just that I got a call saying that David Cameron doesn’t want it to happen.”
I was gobsmacked. And gutted.
“Who cares what David Cameron wants?” I thought to myself. But it was a fait accompli. Young was the frontman of the campaign, and he had more time than the rest of us to dedicate towards it. If he was warned off, and as a result decided against doing this – then it wasn’t going to happen. And it never did.
I’m not sure he cares now. The Tories got their majority. And I’m not saying all this to totally have a pop at Toby. He had some great ideas at the outset, and did a lot of hard work. But he was clearly leaned on by Conservative Campaign HQ – and yesterday we saw why.
He’s now being rolled out at the Tories’ unofficial spokesman, a role previously filled by the centrist Tim Montgomerie. Like Monty, Young informed me at the time that he didn’t want to build a “UniteTheRight” platform but a “UniteTheCentreRight” (his words). I didn’t really buy this. I’m not a liberal, nor am I wishy-washy. I refer you back to that Thatcher quote.
But it struck me yesterday, watching Young doing the rounds on TV, attacking Isabel Oakeshott, Michael Ashcroft, and anyone else who dared to think that Call Me Dave was both a good idea, and might be a good book. He sounded confident in a way that you could only be if you’ve taken your lines specifically from someone else. My guess? Tory HQ and Downing Street.
They “refused to dignify” the book with a response. But Toby Young was their unofficial spokesman yesterday. And let’s think about what he said: the book took years, had millions of pounds spent on it, and the headline story was about the prime minister allegedly being fellated by a dead pig. Wrong, wrong, wrong. These are classic Tory spin lines. And they’re not bad ones too. That CCHQ knows what its doing. Play the man, not the ball. Classic stuff.
There were no “years”, there wasn’t “millions of pounds” and the “headline” was pulled by the Daily Mail and basically every other news outlet, not Ashcroft and Oakeshott, to feature in the serialisation yesterday. Additionally, think about this: they weren’t reporting the news. They were reporting, in a biography, a comment made by a Tory colleague of Mr Cameron. There was no requirement for them to “second source” the story, and as I understand, the authors have been very clear in stating that they aren’t reporting it as a fact, so much as an anecdote from a reliable source.
I know Isabel Oakeshott, and she’s no lightweight. In fact, Isabel, if you’re reading this, I owe you a PFL.
Let’s just say this. The Prime Minister’s praetorian guard is not just overreacting to a couple of lines (sourced through a Tory MP, by the way) in a 200,000 word book. But they’re also helping to drive it up the Amazon charts. I understand preorders are through the roof, and that the publisher has had to order a second print run already – two weeks before the book is even due out.
No doubt there will be loads more interesting information contained within. And if you’re wondering why I’ve chosen to write the stuff about Toby Young and Unite The Right now? Well I found it particularly distasteful that he would report things that were spoken about between him and Oakeshott in a private dinner, in his Spectator column yesterday. So I suppose it’s a case of: yeah, it’s not very nice, is it?