A wave of nostalgia overcame me one recent Saturday morning when the debate over Brexit on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme moved to the Conservative Club at Maidenhead in Berkshire, where the local MP is the Home Secretary, Teresa May.
It brought back fond memories of attending that institution, albeit as a visitor – a chum, a fellow journalist, who was a Conservative party supporter and club member, would sign me in.
The club was well-named – many of the members did appear to be the type of people whom one would almost automatically infer were ‘typical Tories’, a framed photograph of Edward Heath (yes, it was that long ago) was displayed prominently on a wall and I’m sure the venue was useful for ‘networking’ among local businessmen.
However, membership was not dependent on being either a member or supporter of the Conservative party nor even a Conservative voter. It had begun life as a working men’s social club and that, essentially, was what it had remained, albeit now more white than blue collar.
The club was popular among non-political people for its snooker facilities and it would not come as a surprise if some members actually voted Labour rather than Conservative.
Similar Conservative clubs are to be found across England, even in some Labour-voting areas, and their position in the community may be one reason why the party has held onto a number of urban Westminster seats in the North, constituencies of the type that were lost in a series of general elections by the Conservatives in Scotland following their ‘high-water mark’ of 1955.
Although the Scottish Conservatives secured a good result at the Scottish Parliamentary election earlier this month, their leader, Ruth Davidson, admitted that many of those who voted for her party were probably not natural Conservatives but had loaned their vote because she was seen as providing the most effective opposition to the next SNP government.
By taking root in urban Scotland, perhaps clubs like that in Maidenhead (or Bolton, Lancashire) would help revive working-class Conservatism north of the Border and turn Ruth Davidson’s current crop of ‘loanee voters’ into permanent ones.
REMAINER HEADS IN THE CLOUDS
In the great Referendum debate, the ‘Remain’ camp seems to be sensing victory and is moving in for the kill to avoid the risk of the ‘Leavers’ making a late revival and stealing the result from under their noses on 23 June.
So they have again wheeled out one of Britain’s most successful business-persons, Carolyn McCall, chief executive of Easyjet, to repeat earlier dire warnings about Brexit leading to higher air fares and a lower choice of routes served by budget air lines like her own.
No more popping over to Paris for a short break or squeezing in an impromptu week in the sunny Algarve because leaving the EU would make operating the routes more “complicated” she suggested.
As for air fares, I assume the real reason these have become much lower (in real terms) over the past 20 years has more to do with improved aircraft technology and good management rather than membership of the EU.
And anyway, efficiency savings by private industry can have a sting in the tail: i.e. a substantial proportion of the ‘savings’ on the cost of an airline ticket has not gone to the public at all but to the government in the form of air passenger duty, often euphemistically referred to as an ‘environmental tax’.
Sadly, the more efficient a company producing consumer products or services becomes, the more likely kleptomaniac politicians are to carry out a raid with some trumped up tax.
Much of the ‘Remain’ scare stories of late do seem to have focussed on individual consumer issues rather than the economic big picture. However, they have been unable to claim that Brexit will mean more expensive smartphones, laptops, tablets, dvd’s and widescreen televisions as most of these are imported from the Far East.
So they have homed in on European travel with dire threats about the cost of flights, accommodation and mobile phone tariffs.
Just last week David Cameron was banging this drum by claiming that leaving the EU would increase the price of a typical summer holiday on the Costas for a family of four by £230.
This suggests that the Prime Minister holds his fellow countrymen in somewhat low esteem if he thinks this truly monumental vote on the future of the UK can be won on such relatively trivial issues.
As the author and broadcaster, James Delingpole, commented in the film, ‘Brexit, The Movie’ (available on YouTube), it’s like Captain Cook landing in Australia offering trinkets to the Aborigines and the Aborigines accepting with gratitude…..not realising that taking these trinkets marked the beginning of the end of life and society as they had known it.