Dark Clouds Are Gathering Over this Authoritarian, Conformist Tory Party

To be a Tory activist is a desultory affair. You are compliant, spineless and docile.

Your role is unquestioning and your engagement in the political process is an act of voluntary servitude.

Once a year you parade your acquiescence at the Conservative Party Conference.

There, usually at a personal financial cost which is only marginally more expensive than the cost to your self-esteem, you spend four days loyally clapping as a parade of party bigwigs deliver speeches addressed primarily to the audience watching the six o'clock news.

You are not required to take part in anything so demeaning as a debate and there is no need for you to bother with such tiresome fripperies as voting.

If you are one of the fortunate ones, you may be invited onto the stage for a sofa chat with a Government minister where you will have been chosen not for your insights or achievements but for your demonstrable and unwavering ability to fawn.

This is your reward for delivering hundreds of leaflets, knocking on doors, attending fundraising dinners and envelope stuffing: almost total exclusion from the running of your party.

The leadership treats its members with patrician disdain

Perhaps the Tory rank and file enjoy this humiliation. Perhaps they have concluded that this is the price they are willing to pay to join a political party.

The leadership, which treats its members with patrician disdain, is certainly comfortable with having such a supine membership.

Apologists will argue that this discipline is an essential compromise in the pursuit and preservation of power.

Voters punish divided parties so the calculation has been made to extinguish wherever possible those elements which could spark the fires of division.

At the same time they deliberately misinterpret the splits and disagreements among their opponents as weakness.

Supporters of the left used to do this too at the expense of the Lib Dems - by the far the most democratic of our parties - when they had the temerity to hold debates and use conferences to shape policy.

Over the years attitudes changed towards the Lib Dems.

Their perseverance was rewarded as political journalists and opponents became accepting and finally admiring of their quaint democratic ways.

Indeed, it was the resentment at Tony Blair's over-controlling style of politics and the disenfranchisement of the Labour membership that fuelled the cause of the Corbynistas.

The arrival of Corbyn leaves the Conservatives as the last major party wedded to Enver Hoxha-style authoritarianism. And, in the end, it will be to their detriment.

the Conservatives are trying to marginalise dissent not just within their own party but within the country as a wholeUnfortunately, those accustomed to their parties being so pathetically accepting tend to have a predilection for treating the electorate in the same way.

Aided by a largely compliant media (and those which are not compliant have been ruthlessly sidelined), the Conservatives are trying to marginalise dissent not just within their own party but within the country as a whole.

As always with the Tories they have mistaken an electoral mandate for popular acclaim. Their history in office is of a party which, puffed up with power, then overreaches itself.

Whether it is Thatcher with the poll tax, Section 28 and the curtailing of civil liberties, Major with his botched rail privatisation or Cameron with the threat to tax credits and the Trades Union Bill the pattern is familiar: their unfettered Toryism stokes animosity which, in turn, engenders popular support for the very causes they are trying to demonise.

alienate your supporters they will either turn elsewhere or against youThere is an alarm which could have been installed to give warning of such follies. It is called debate.

If the activists and MPs were given a greater voice they may have been able to articulate to the leadership some of their qualms about the axing the Human Rights Act, union bashing and the woeful attack on the working poor.

David Davis could have had a five-minute slot on the main stage to explain why he is opposed to the Trades Union Bill. Business Secretary Sajid Javid could have had the opportunity to defend his legislation.

Party members could have joined in. Would that been a great crime against unity? More likely, it would have tempered resentment and led to calmer policies.

As Harriet Harman is fond of saying: “A row is as good as a rest."

Cameron may also wish to heed another lesson from Blair's reign. If you alienate your supporters they will either turn elsewhere or against you.

To an extent the Tories have avoided a Corbyn-style revolution because the anti-politics sentiment on the right drifted towards Nigel Farage.

But it is still a potent force and could become more so in a party which is about to test its unity to the limit with the EU referendum.

Jason Beattie is the Political Editor of the Daily Mirror

More about the author

About the author

Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror. He has worked in Westminster for 15 years including spells on the Birmingham Post, Scotsman and the London Evening Standard. A hispanophile, he has also written for El Mundo and has a deep interest in Spanish and Catalan history, culture and food.

Follow Jason on Twitter.

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