Status anxiety

Toby Young: I'm thinking of going into politics

7 September 2013

9:00 AM

7 September 2013

9:00 AM

The Hammersmith Conservative Association will shortly be looking for a candidate to run against the sitting Labour MP in 2015 and I’m thinking of applying. But by God, it’s a tough decision.

On the face of it, the case against is pretty overwhelming. The local MP, Andy Slaughter, has a majority of 3,549 and on current projections there will be a swing away from the Tories in London. The Conservatives fielded a strong candidate in 2010 in the form of Shaun Bailey and still couldn’t win it. What hope would I have in 2015 — and that’s assuming I get selected, by no means a foregone conclusion? I’ve spoken to several members of the association and their view is that the successful candidate would have to be prepared to devote every waking moment to the campaign, not least because Slaughter is such a good constituency MP. They mean ‘good’ in the sense that he’ll turn up to the opening of an envelope.

One of the reasons he can do this is because politics is his life. He’s unmarried and childless, which means he doesn’t have to do bath-and-bed every night and his weekends are his own. When it comes to attending meetings of the Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group, I wouldn’t be able to compete. Not a good starting point. Running a parliamentary campaign in a marginal constituency is a full-time job and, quite apart from the wife and kids, I already have a full-time voluntary job as chairman of the West London Free School Academy Trust. We’ve opened two schools so far and we’re planning to open at least six more. I spend 40 to 60 hours a week on Trust business, which leaves little time for paid work, let alone more voluntary work.


Even if I secured the nomination, what’s the upside? The campaign itself would inevitably be an unpleasant experience in which all the embarrassing stuff I’ve ever done would be dug up and used against me. Not difficult since I’ve dredged up most of it myself in the pages of this magazine. As Kingsley Amis once said, ‘Never make a joke against yourself that some little bastard can turn into a piece of shit and send your way.’

Suppose I won. Then what? I’d be faced with the pride-swallowing siege that is the life of a newly elected MP. Forget about affairs of state. The only decision I’d have to make would be who to suck up to more, George Osborne or John Bercow? Neither prospect fills me with joy. Being a backbench MP is drudge work for the most part and I’d have to take a salary cut to do it. Once upon a time, MPs could expect a little respect for devoting themselves to public service, but not any more. Nowadays, you’re regarded as lying, cheating bastard who’s either on the fiddle or having it off with his secretary.

And yet I’m still tempted. True, my chances of getting selected and winning the set would be slim, but those are the kinds of odds I like. I’m one of those people who doesn’t really feel alive unless his back is against the wall. I could go for a safe seat instead, but where would be the fun in that? If the Conservatives are returned in 2015 with an overall majority, and I beat Andrew Slaughter in the process, I would feel as if I’d contributed to that victory. The satisfaction of having helped keep Labour out would be a source of comfort during the five years in the salt mines that followed.

I won’t pretend the brickbats thrown at me during the campaign wouldn’t hurt, but I’d be a sorry excuse for a man if I let that put me off. I’ve long ago learnt that the best defence against people bad-mouthing you is to continue to behave decently and honourably. You must judge yourself by your actions, even if others won’t. To paraphrase Kipling, don’t deal in lies even if you’re lied about, and don’t give way to hating even if you’re hated.

Finally, and most importantly, I love this dirty rotten country. So what if people have a low opinion of politicians? I don’t want to be an MP because of any special status it might bring. Like the majority of people who embark on this treadmill, I’d be doing it out of a sense of patriotic duty and the belief that my lot would be better for the country than the other lot.

As I say, a tough decision. And I’m going to have to decide whether to go for it in the next few weeks.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • AndyB

    Give it a shot, Toadmeister – I’d suggest a ‘barnacles off the the boat approach’, defining yourself by your education, education, education record. Even if that sounds like a broken record. Bon chance!

  • Nick Harman

    ‘Politics, as I never tire of saying, is for social and emotional misfits, handicapped folk, those with a grudge. The purpose of politics is to help them overcome these feelings of inferiority and compensate for their personal inadequacies in the pursuit of power.’ Auberon Waugh
    “The Power Urge,” essay in The Spectator (15 December, 1982)

    • george

      Trust a non-political-philosopher to get it half wrong. The half-right bit he didn’t mention is just as important, if not more so.

  • Reconstruct

    It’ll be a ghastly experience, but you should probably go for it.

  • Robert_Eve

    If you are thinking long term maybe UKIP is a better bet.

    • AdemAljo

      Oh, do go away.

      • gulberwick

        C’mon, you lot are the best of pals and you know it.

      • blingmun

        No UKIP won’t go away. But the Conservative Party is in terminal decline.

  • Kingbingo

    Ask yourself what you want from it. If the answer is you want to be PM one day then you will have to act like a craven toadying sycophant that dry humps the greasy poll at every opportunity and your be an utter waste of space as an MP.

    If on the other hand you set out with the express intention of being a legislator and never an executive. Someone who stands up for what he believes, and will tell the whips where to stick it when they come to you sweet-talking/ begging/ threatening/ bullying you to vote for the ‘Big government and taxes Act part 3,407’, then well go for it. That’s the type of MP this country needs.

    And maybe if the non-careerist model MP catches on and sooner or later most MPs are non-careerist then we might actually start getting decent executives, because they are men and women of real calibre not ###tish politician wannabes.

    We need more Douglass Carswell’s and fewer George Osborn’s.

  • Stuck-Record

    Toby, absolutely not.

    The work you have done on free schools is exemplary. You have had, and hopefully continue to have, far greater influence (for the good) on the future of innumerable children than anyone in ‘power’ has done.

    Being an MP is simply the illusion of power. Make no mistakes, you would have none. As a party hack you would be beholden to the increasingly authoritarian two main parties, who both believe in massive welfare state and an increasing power of government. But, as an independent you would have no power at all — unless you were an ranting anti-Israeli lunatic like George Galloway, in which case you’d be invited on every BBC programme.

  • OneTermDave

    Considering all the toadying you’ve done for Vichy Dave over the past year, I’d say you have paved the way for the PPM list.

  • bugalugs2

    Doing it merely because you like a challenge is a bad reason to do it. Sit down and decide what you actually want to achieve and why, and what you believe in and why. Then ask yourself how you can best put those beliefs into action and achieve what you’re hoping to achieve.

    If the answer is by becoming an MP, then go for it – but frankly it may well be that you’re looking at the wrong party and that standing as an MP for say UKIP in the constituency might give you greater influence, even if you lose, than standing as part of a top-down party machine.

  • bugalugs2

    “One of the reasons he can do this is because politics is his life. He’s unmarried and childless, which means he doesn’t have to do bath-and-bed every night and his weekends are his own. ”

    Which makes him exactly the type of professional politician that is buggering up this country so badly.

    Those aren’t points in his favour Toby, they’re negatives because you can portray him, with justification, as someone out of touch with the lives of real people, inhabiting just the world of politics with no real experience of what it is like raising a family, or having to juggle work and family commitments and so on.

  • Devolvify

    If you’d have to take a pay cut as an MP, then I guess that your voluntary work isn’t ‘voluntary’ in the way that us mere plebs understand?

    However, if it is – and it takes up 40-60 hours per week as you say – how do you still manage to earn £70k+ in your spare time?

    Millions across the land would dearly love to know.

    • sheff

      I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I think he does a little journalism as well…

  • Kevin Ronald Lohse

    Why leave behind what you are good at for a masochistic ego-trip? Being an infrequent visitor to your DT column, notwithstanding your excellent work on free schools, you’ve got too much metrosexual baggage to attract my vote. Labour-light isn’t going to prise this seat from Labour-red-in-tooth-and-claw. You already have a political career. If you’re seriously thinking of a Westminster career, then look upon this adventure as earning your stripes to have a chance at a winnable seat next time.

  • AdemAljo

    I’ve been following your battle in West London education since forever and it makes me extremely happy to see the ridiculously good progress that you and your trust are making. I sincerely hope this progress continues and makes a positive influence on the rest of the country.

    As for being an MP… If it means that you are, in any way, putting yourself in a stronger position to fight for more of these changes for the betterment of our education system at the very least, then I should think its your duty to do so.

    If you would fight for these policies in government too, you could join any party and I would still vote for you as my MP.

    Just probably not UKIP… there’s just something off about them. Like an out of date egg.

  • OliverC

    I’d say go for it.
    You have a lot of knowledge about schools, and could make a much needed impact in that area.
    Your country hath need of thee!

  • Ringstone

    YES; another political journalist with a PPE degree from Oxford, just what we need!

    Notwithstanding what would seem to be some genuinely decent work in education, do we have to keep fishing in the same narrow gene pool for our Parliamentarians?
    Never mind all women short lists, how about all STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] shortlists?

    Maybe if we had people in the driving seat who actually understood computers and project management we’d not waste billions on failed systems [NHS at £12bn is a recent big one, MOD, CSA, Post Office benefits, Universal Credit is in the news at £34m, there are dozens].

    • blingmun

      The Tories have a vanishing membership from which to select members. In a football match San Marino fields as many men as Spain or Brazil but of course selects them from a population of 30,000 rather many millions.

      The days when the Conservatives had millions of members are long gone so the vacuum is filled by the kind of slimy one-track minds who sign up to do PPE at Oxford and believe they have a God given right to govern. The best means available to thwart these useless deluded rent seekers is to vote UKIP.

      • Ringstone

        Small and shrinking the Conservative gene pool might be, but it’s still an order of magnitude bigger than UKIP’s – so perhaps that’s not a line of argument you would wish to take further.

        As for voting UKIP; apart from being the SDP of the right, splitting the vote and letting an economically illiterate Labour trougher in where you might have had a slightly less incompetent Tory trougher, what effect would that have? You’re unlikely to win a single seat under first past the post and your manifesto consists of recycled Clarkson rants; you need proportional representation with a 5% threshold like the Germans – and we don’t have it. You’d better do well in this set of elections though as much of your current support is unlikely to see the next one, according to YouGov only 15% of your support is under 40, 71% is over 50 and a whopping 48% is over 60.

        You also seem to have missed the main thrust of the original post, the exclusion of STEM specialists the corridors of power and the commentariat limiting their ability to influence debate and decision making for the better. As an example between May 2010 and June 2013 there were 13 comedians on Question Time a flagship programme – and 2 scientists [http://www.theguardian.com/science/the-lay-scientist+tv-and-radio/question-time]; sort of shows our priorities doesn’t it?

  • NoGods

    Why would you seek to replace such a dedicated MP when you show no desire to match his commitment, just assume his role?

    Colour of rosette is meaningless these days anyway.

  • William Reid Boyd

    You’re doing just fine as it is, Toby.

    If deep down, perhaps not completely acknowledged at this stage, is a hankering for Secretary of State for Education (under a new PM perhaps), then I would definitely say go for it because plainly you have excellent credentials for that and I do think you would be a real asset there. But if it’s really no more ambitious than to do duty as a backbencher, I would say what you do now is more important.

    At any rate I shouldn’t worry about brickbats!

  • CaptainDallas

    “Nowadays, you’re regarded as lying, cheating bastard who’s either on the fiddle or having it off with his secretary.” And whose fault is it that the electorate feel this way?

  • Kingbingo

    Thinking about this more I ask myself the question, if I were free a to pursue a passion of my choice, could I influence the country to a greater extent by opening a school or two, or becoming an MP?

    Definitely the former. I could really make a difference with the former. Not sure what the latter would actually achieve at all.

  • E Hart

    You are not a lawyer. That’s a plus. You’re not a career politician. That’s another plus. You’ve got a lot of experience. That’s a plus, too. The real problem is – you’re Toby Young – and yet another representative of Grand Fenwick (London).

  • Robin Horsley

    Toby, I don’t think you would struggle to get selected – that would be the easy bit. I suspect getting elected would be quite straightforward also. I am sure the party would pile in the necessary resources for a high profile candidate. Your profile would bring you a good proportion of the otherwise ‘none of the above’ stay-at-home vote in addition to the Conservative vote. And your profile would help in the wider campaign.

    The real question is what you actually want to achieve and whether or not being an MP would be the best way to fulfil it.

    If it’s just the general lure of the cut and thrust of Westminster politics, I do wonder if you have missed the boat. Was your generation not that which entered Parliament in 2001 and 2005?

    Having really considered if I wanted to do this myself a few years ago I understand the quandry.

    Your position is different – having a well established public profile. If you were in Parliament now I think you would get some good opportunities to make some real difference. But what would the position be in the 2015 Parliament? Would you just be a constituency MP.

    Can Dave win a majority? It looks doubtful with UKIP on the march. I thought he was going to win in 2010 right up until a few months from the GE. Now I would be looking really hard at the Conservative strategy and wanting to be really confident that something fundamental was different and be confident of a good majority before dropping everything. Best of luck with it.

    • blingmun

      The Tories will not win a majority at the next election. You can put your house on it. They have a shrinking membership, almost zero support online, massive hostility from millions of disaffected conservative/libertarian minded voters who feel betrayed and lied to.

      Cameron’s only hope is that all the lefties and luvvies he has spent the last three years appeasing put down the Guardian set up Conservative Assocations in Islington and Hampstead. Good luck with that.

  • black11hawk

    Definitely do it.

  • Nick Ravo

    Go for it, sport. At a minimum, good copy. Another book/movie?

  • Mike Barnes

    Just keep writing about how lovely Michael Gove is and you’ll be made a Lord. Much easier.

    It worked for Danny Finkelstein after years of sucking up to Osborne.

  • Rockin Ron

    Well as a poster boy for this age of inanity, you would be perfect as an MP. After all, you have all these qualities:
    – fickle
    – selfish
    – egotistic
    – vain
    – lacking life experience
    – pampered
    – media savvy
    – easily swayed
    – interested in taking rather than giving
    – disloyal
    – dim
    – in denial
    – deluded
    So, yes, go for it.

    • Kingbingo

      “lacking life experience”

      Didn’t he write an international best seller that got made into a Hollywood movie about his life experiences?

      And open a school.

      Out of interest what have you done?

      • Rockin Ron

        Quite right, I haven’t written a best selling book or opened a school, so I apologise for my intemperate comments.

        However, if you read the best selling book, it tells you a lot about Mr Young’s qualifications to be a poster boy for the age of inanity. And as for opening a school, that is an achievement but again, done mostly for selfish reasons.
        What Toby Young represents is a value less vacuity that rises to the surface because he has a ready and gullible audience through his regular rants. For example, he has a pet project, the school, and thinks that is the answer to the all the woes of state education. Few could say that Toby is deep, but he has made being shallow attractive to a type of reader that is impressed by the surface polish rather than the substance. For these reasons, he would make a good MP in this current age.
        For my part, I’m sorry to say that I’ve only worked in the charity sector raising millions of pounds to save people’s lives and give hope to people in life threatening circumstances. Doesn’t compare to Mr Young, obviously.

  • rav

    Toby – what you are doing with schools is amazing , but you have just started and need to ensure that they deliver to the high expectations.
    Its understandable that you are contemplating a role in politics. We need big society champions like you making a difference on the ground and not wasting time playing political games in Westminster.
    If you do however decide to go for it, please do pledge to save our hospitals !

  • Newsfox

    With Bojo and Tobes in the ‘Ledge’, Britain officially becomes less credible than Fragil Rock.

  • Daniel Maris

    Anyone who can get the government to pay for his children’s private education in all its knickerbocker glory has got to have something going for him I guess.

    • Rockin Ron

      Brilliant, well said Daniel

  • george

    Worth a try, Toby. It wouldn’t be for ever. A soul needs a garden, but perhaps it needs an arena too. Churchill needed one, and made no apology for it. On the other side, Britain needs patriots. Go for it, I say. As long as your wife agrees, of course.

  • JackSavage

    Get in there and use the opportunity to set about all of them with a big stick.

  • Wombeloid

    Dear Toby, I think it would be a mistake. I agree with you about most things and I think you are a great advocate of free schools, but I don’t think you’d be a great advocate of conservatism vis-a-vis the floating voter. You are more likely to raise his/her hackles: you are very blunt and take no hostages. To turn this into a virtue, you need a bit of charisma, like Nigel Farage. You don’t come across as charismatic.

  • Liz

    Can you do your best not to announce to the world every time you spot that a female MP has breasts and isn’t hiding them behind a screen? You know, like wot you do if you spot a bloke with a nose right there in the middle of his face.

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