Most of the young would find it less embarrassing exiting from the rear of a sheep than the rear of a Conservative battle bus. This must change.

3 Mar 2013 at 13:34

It is one of the great British traditions that after a by election defeat our weekend television screens are filled with jumpy backbenchers calling for their parties to listen to their grass roots, go back to traditional values and get the message across. I remember one memorable occasion when the splendid Kenneth Baker as party chairman was despatched to Number 10 to inform Thatcher that she should dictate less and listen more. Well, I don’t know what they talked about but when she was interviewed about Ken’s statement that she was now in listening mode she looked rather startled growling, “really?”. And that really rather said it all.

Eastleigh has highlighted the problem shared by both the Tories and Labour; we don’t have too many grass roots to listen to. The days of mass membership parties are long gone. Like so many Conservative associations Eastleigh had been allowed to rot away. Worse, this phenomenon is not uncommon in safe seats. And where are the equivalent of the young Conservatives? Too busy squabbling over meaningless titles and not prepared to do the donkey work. And not too many of them at that. Why they were so successful in the fifties of sixties is that they provided a forum for sex with a bit of politics thrown in. An excellent opportunity for swathes of former public school boys to have the unusual experience of having sex with someone without a penis. And in between shags and hectic social life they manned the barricades in the constituencies.

We really could learn an awful lot about campaigning from the Lib Dems. Alright they play really dirty and are about as trustworthy as a Peter Mandelson mortgage application, but they do know how to make politics fun. That is why they attract so many more young people. Compare them to Labour. Earnest, elderly and bitterly divided over their most successful electorate asset, Tony Blair. And the Tories? Earnest, elderly and bitterly divided over their most successful electoral asset, Margaret Thatcher.

What a bloody turn off.

It is quite interesting that Grant Shapps has hardly received any serious stick over Eastleigh. I am not surprised as on the telly he comes over as a human being, which for the the ghastly job of being Party Chairman which is toxically partisan, is a rare gift. He is also the Tigger of politics, bursting with energy and enthusiasm. What he has got to do is run a health check on associations, particularly those with bedblocking MPs who could pop their clogs at any moment. And then try an make politics at a grass roots level attractive to the young. If the Lib Dems can do it so can we. Sadly, being stuck at fundraisers where elderly, middle class white people just drone on about Europe and gay marriage is about as enticing as a dose of the clap. I suspect that many of the young would find it more embarrassing exiting from the rear of a sheep than the rear of a Tory battle bus.