Status anxiety

Accept it, embrace it: Conservatives aren’t cool

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

The Times headline on Tuesday was rather cruel: ‘Stars turn down No. 10 invitation.’ This was a reference to the party the press dubbed ‘Cool Britannia II’, David Cameron’s attempt to recreate the glamour of Tony Blair’s star-studded Downing Street reception in 1997. ‘They wanted Daniel Craig and Benedict Cumberbatch,’ said the Times. ‘They got Ronnie Corbett and Bruce Forsyth.’

To be fair, the guests also included Helena Bonham-Carter, Claudia Winkleman, Harvey Weinstein, Richard Curtis, Roger Daltrey, Eliza Doolittle and Kirstie Allsopp. But according to Fleet Street’s finest, who were milling about outside with their noses pressed up against the windows, it still compared unfavourably with Blair’s bash. ‘Seen bigger stars on ITV2 at 1.30 a.m.,’ tweeted one embittered journalist. There are several things to be said about this.

First of all, the original event really wasn’t all that good. No A-list movie stars turned up then, either. Reading the press reports this week, you’d be forgiven for thinking Blair’s Cool Britannia party was a resounding success, but it was written off as a cheap publicity stunt at the time. The press is wildly exaggerating how glamorous it was in order to draw an unfavourable comparison. The only people I remember being there were Noel Gallagher and Meg Matthews.


It’s also not a level playing field. Tony Blair had just won a landslide election in 1997 and was still basking in off-the-charts approval ratings. He hadn’t had a chance to do anything to alienate the luvvies, such as invade Iraq. Cameron, by contrast, never won a majority and, in his wisdom, decided to hold his Cool Britannia party at the end of his first term in office rather than at the beginning. His government has done plenty of things to antagonise the metropolitan elite, from cutting Arts Council funding to appointing Sajid Javid as Culture Secretary. Quite frankly, I’m amazed Ronnie Corbett turned up.

Then there’s the fact that Cameron is a Tory. Most ‘creative’ types would prefer to be seen with Rolf Harris than the leader of the Conservative party. I always thought the reason Cameron and his cronies wanted to ‘modernise’ the party is because, at bottom, they can’t cope with the social stigma. They don’t accept that if you join the Conservatives you are basically a bit of a weirdo — the kind of student who wears a suit to the freshers’ bop. The reason they wanted to ‘detoxify the brand’ back in the mid-Noughties wasn’t to attract floating voters, but to protect their social lives. They wanted to be invited to good parties, go out to trendy nightclubs and restaurants and be Conservatives at the same time. That was their version of ‘the project’: how to be a Tory and still be invited to Matthew Freud’s Christmas party.

Well, it’s clear now that they were on a hiding to nothing. Conservatives will always be unfashionable, and the more they try to ingratiate themselves with the in crowd, the more pathetic they’ll seem. If anything, they should go the other way and advertise their complete indifference to the good opinion of the intelligentsia. One of the quirks of modern life is that the distribution of ‘hotness’ isn’t linear, with George Clooney at one end and Nick Griffiths at the other. Rather, it’s a kind of circle in which people who are galactically uncool can pass through the fashion equivalent of a black hole and become cool — a bit like Hush Puppies. That was a trick that Margaret Thatcher pulled off. She never tried to have a Cool Britannia party or anything like it. But she was the guest of honour at a literary dinner organised by Hugh Thomas in 1982 and among those who turned up to break bread with her were Tom Stoppard, Stephen Spender, Isaiah Berlin, Al Alvarez, Anthony Powell, V.S. Pritchett and Philip Larkin. (‘I kiss the ground she treads,’ wrote Larkin to Julian Barnes.) I’ll take that lot over Noel Gallagher any day.

The other alternative is to stop worrying about being cool and just embrace your inner spod. That’s my strategy. Rather than be horrified by the besuited weirdoes I find myself standing next to at fringe events at the Conservative party conference, I recognise them as kindred spirits — independent-minded types who’ve embraced the Tory cause in spite of the fact that it’s so desperately unhip. To hell with the A-list. Cameron should have a party for the people who don’t get invited to parties.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • willam derbyshire

    There’s nothing more uncool at University than being a ‘Tory boy’. Yet property owning, share owning, private school sponsoring, individuals is what most of us become whether we like it or not. We are Tory boys alright – its just a question of whether you dare say so or not.

    • grammarschoolman

      In other words, the ‘Tory boys’ are the ones who’ve reached maturity earlier than the rest.

      • rtj1211

        Or inherited all the things that take many 20 years to acquire through hard work.

      • GraveDave

        But you still cant stop looking backwards, most of you..
        Nothing mature about that.

    • rtj1211

      University is about establishing yourself as independent from your parents, who are often property owning, share owning people who put you through private school.

      Many young people adhere to the exact opposite of their parents’ values, as it is the time of rutting and experimentation for many, not the time to settle down, vow eternal love to one person and realise that your life is no longer your own if you have to take responsibility for that helpless waif who you created, not in a fit of temporary insanity, but as the consummation of your love of another, your love of life and your genetic imprint.

    • And risk becoming Carmody in the ‘History Man’ at the hands of venal and amoral hypocrites marching under their banner of tolerance and inclusivity

  • Dan Grover

    For what it’s worth, I work in the creative industries in East London (for a film company) and most people here are either entirely a-political or, at the very least, pretty reasonable if leftwardly bent. The thing about all the people on march’s with their signs against cuts is that whilst they all look very trendy and young and creative and unshaved all that malarky, working in this business is really tough and, generally, that lot don’t cut the mustard. I’ve worked in a few different industries including briefly in finance and the actual people at work in the creative industries in the UK are not that dissimilar to any of the other industries. Socially, they’re typically very liberal, but then so is the modern Conservative party and “young people” generally. I’m unashamedly economically right wing and we have some interesting discussions but I wouldn’t say there’s an overwhelming level of support in any particular direction. In fact, we’re a small, growing company and the head honcho is about the most driven, entrepreneurial, capitalist guy going. His livelihood depends on it, and it’s an industry of small start up’s, so I think that’s pretty common.

    “Luvies” really only exist in the world of celebrity, where one’s politics can easily be divorced from their every day lives in the way it can’t for most people.

    • Tahitiholiday

      They *would* be ‘leftwardly bent’: it’s the easiest route, the path of least resistance. It also requires no thought whatsoever, just sucking up what your axe-grinding teachers have taught you. Young people think they’re the bees’ knees, but they’re not: they’re just the bees’ toenails.

      • Dan Grover

        I don’t really understand your point. Young people – with jobs, evidently – are rubbish and lazy?

        • Tahitiholiday

          No, you certainly don’t understand my point. Something to do with the fact that the Left is an easygoing echo chamber, it gives off the funny gas we all breathe, it’s the path of least resistance to nod one’s assent instead of saying ‘I know this LOOKS like a good idea, but what about the actual consequences?’ Somebody — Thomas Sowell? — calls this Stage One thinking and it’s a sort of thinking monopolized by the Left.

          • Dan Grover

            Ok…. Sorry, what does that have to do with what I said?

          • Tahitiholiday

            I dunno Dan, I haven’t looked back through the discussion. I’m sure it was relevant somehow. Feel free to pass it by if that suits you.

            Edit: You were talking about the political types you work with. It’s easiest to be Left in publishing and entertainment because most people are and to be anything else requires one to think independently, push against the herd of ‘independent minds’ (ha ha), and risk a career dive-bomb.

          • Dan Grover

            Oooookay!

  • Kitty MLB

    So its so uncool being a Conservative.Its more cool
    being a caterwaulling ‘popular’ Leftie, trying to be one
    of the crowd and feeling everyones pain despite causing
    that situation…Hmm, think I get it !

    • GraveDave

      I don’t think lefties are one of the crowd anymore. Unless you want to be part of The Twitterati and led by people like Stephen Fry.

      • Sameer P. Sarkar

        Or a Homo-sexual

    • Fergus Pickering

      It’s hot being a Tory. You are hot, Kitty

      • Smithersjones2013

        Get a room!

    • Smithersjones2013

      Its only cool if you are a member of ‘Fool Britannia’.

    • JimHHalpert

      If it’s a choice between being cool and being right, choose being right. Everyone eventually grows up and understands this, apart from the truly tragic cases: there’s nothing sadder than dying a Leftie.

  • rtj1211

    As most ‘cool’ people are supposed to be under 30 and as Churchill thought it unhelpful to be a Tory much before that age, maybe promoting ‘admirable Britain’ rather than ‘Cool Britannia’ would be a better image of desired Tory outcomes??

    • Chateauneuf-du-Puss

      If they all have to be under 30 to be cool, what they’ll really end up being is silly. The cool people 30 and over are not so much ‘cool’ as savvy. And swanky.

  • Chateauneuf-du-Puss

    Cameron is a Tory? I suppose he is, in the way that a red plastic crinkly thing in a Christmas cracker was a fish.

    • GraveDave

      He is a Tory. And a clever one. Remember that line in The Usual Suspects about the devil tricking people into believing he doesn’t exist?

      • Smithersjones2013

        And his greatest trick has been to hide that purported cleverness beneath a blizzard of cock-ups and misjudgements greater than any other of Eden’s successors!

        • GraveDave

          Yes, and he always backs his incompetents and always has ‘full confidence in their ability to see the job through…’

  • Roisin

    Well, there’s not being cool,
    And then there’s being a deluded fool…

    • GraveDave

      Trouble with Tories is that they don’t see much beyond the pound note sign.

      • DWWolds

        And Labour do not see much beyond spending those pounds.

        • GraveDave

          That’s just what you don’t see. Btw, in certain areas the Tories have already vastly overspent more than the last lot. Usually in those areas they have failed to ‘reform’.

  • Sanctimony

    I thought Roger Daltrey was leaning towards UKIP…

    • GraveDave

      Don’t suppose he much fancies the idea of ‘anti fascist’ groups being parked outside his gaff.

      • Smithersjones2013

        How ironic it is in life that activist groups so often mimic the tactics of those they purportedly oppose.

        • GraveDave

          Yes, quite, though I agree on freedom of protest for all, I don’t think it right that it should be threatening or intimidatory.

  • Sanctimony

    Leon Brittan is a Tory, isn’t he … that is seriously cool… they tell me that he’s not as nice as he looks !

  • Laguna Beach Fogey

    But Nationalists are cool, very much so.

  • GraveDave

    Helen Bonham Carter. She’s hot.

    • Kitty MLB

      And Conservative. Unconventional as well.

      • GraveDave

        Delicious. They do often tend to have the best looking women.

  • Nightmale

    Who is Nick Griffiths?

    • GraveDave

      Not the BNP leader-?

      • Nightmale

        I think that’s Nick Griffin.

        • GraveDave

          I know. So who is Nick Griffiths?

  • Smithersjones2013

    Poor Toby. Its way too late to get the excuses in for Cameron’s perverse Blairite fetishism. That Cameron felt the urge to, let alone carried out a parody of Blair’s “Fool Britannia” moment not only demonstrates the vacuity of the dysfunctional Downing Street clique but that Dave’s groupie celebrity wannabe obsessions are now reaching delusional dimensions. What next? Replacing the Cabinet Table with some sofas perhaps?

    Perhaps Dave should seek some sort of counselling from a shrink for what might be diagnosed as a psychosis In the meantime are we safe with such an affected individual in Downing Street?

    And this demonstrates the problem Young has:

    Then there’s the fact that Cameron is a Tory

    When the author has to remind audience of the subjects political allegiance (even though even that ‘Tory’ status could be questioned ~ he’s definitely not a conservative) then you know things are getting desperate…..

    • GraveDave

      How come Tracey Emin wasn’t there? Or was she?

  • Sanctimony

    Leon Brittan for the Order of the Garter… or is he already there ?

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