Yup, I haven't even managed to cross-post this week, because I became homeless *again* and had to scrabble for a place to live whilst finishing deadlines, and a dog ate my homework. But you should all read this, because I suffered for this one, godsdamnit. I had to pretend I was a racist for an evening. It was terrifying. Enjoy, with trepidation.
The teenager in the posh frock delivers her advice with the authority of weary experience. "Since this is your first Conservative Future event, I thought I ought to say -watch out for the men here," she whispers, as her friends disappear to the bar. "Most of them can't be trusted." We're at the Young Britons' Foundation summer party, incorporating the leadership hustings of Conservative Future, where I've come to observe the young right in full victory rut.
Descending three flights of stairs to the private function room at the Mahiki club in central London is a little like stepping into a sewer where the cultural overspill of the 1980s has been draining for twenty years. The room is stuffed with pasty young men in suits and ties drinking nasty orange cocktails and gossiping about Ken Clarke; the smattering of women present are wearing expensive polyester and listening prettily to what the boys have to say.
It's like a scene from one of those time-travelling detective shows, down to the droning muzak, the atmosphere of grim introspection, and the suspicion that everyone here is acting a role. The young people lounged around the bar seem to be rehearsing a set of social stereotypes that feel too clichéd to be real, mouthing empty lines of propaganda - "Thatcher did what needed to be done!" -with only a rudimentary understanding of their implications.
The Young Britons' Foundation is a finishing school for the centre-right which claims to be non-partisan and offers classes in dealing with the media, but the organisers have somehow allowed at least one journalist to infiltrate an evening they're hosting for the youth wing of the Conservative party. Eighty percent of the people here are men, and they have a lot to say about how the bloody Lib Dems are spoiling everything, and they say it over the heads of the women present.
"Yah, I really don't know what it is about Tory guys," continues Posh Frock. "They're worse than normal. I think it's because there are just so many men in the party, and it makes them...you know..." she fumbles in her bag, pulls out a pink gauze purse full of enough prescription medication to restock Boots, and pops some painkillers. "It just makes them arrogant, I suppose."
Is she some sort of feminist, then? "No! God, no!" she squeals. "No, definitely not, it's nothing like that. It's just - be careful. That's all I'm saying."
A hush falls; the hustings have begun. The three candidates for the Conservative Future leadership are all boisterous white men in their mid-twenties, all tall, all a little jowly, distinguishable by the colour of their shirts and the fact that one of them is wearing hipster spectacles. Their pitches are a unanimous declaration of strategic befuddlement.
"Now that we're in power, we've got to show the left that we can win the ideological arguments, because - because we're right!" declares Hipster Spectacles, but he doesn't sound convinced. His platitudes about "progressive politics" elicit disapproving tuts from the back row, who seem to be conducting a rehearsal for their future in the Commons. "Progressive, what does that mean?" mutters James from Kensington. "Everything seems to be progressive these days. It's the buzz-word."
"Yeah, like the Big Society," enjoins prematurely-balding Ollie, who works in the House of Lords and is slurping a Mai Tai from a tumbler shaped like a tribal woman's skull (my drink is in half a pineapple; it's all terribly ethnic). "Nobody knows what the Big Society means! It doesn't mean anything!"
"It means cutting about a hundred billion a year from public services," says his friend, adding hastily, "I mean, like, obviously that's a good thing."
"We need to make sure our party follows our principles and not those of the Liberal Democrats!" shouts another candidate. "It's the bloody Lib Dems who're the problem, they're getting in the way of everything!" During the bellow of assent that follows, one of my new friends brushes a hand surreptitiously and quite deliberately against my knee, like someone trying to be seductive in the seventeenth century. With a flash of awful clarity, I realise that these are precisely the young men my grandmother warned me about, that they are the heirs apparent to Britain's political system, and that not one of them has paused to consider if they deserve it. [read the second half at New Statesman...]
This piece was inspired by Dan Hancox's excellent report from the CF Christmas party in December.