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Conservative conference: Out with the suits, in with Skepta and heavy metal tattoos

SKETCH: How the Camden Conservatives are a little difference from the rest of their party

05 October, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Gio Spinella, David Douglas and Jonny Bucknell in Manchester

THE greatest shame, I’m told, is to turn up to a society wedding in the same dress as another guest.

The same rules of engagement clearly do not apply to the men descending on the Conservative conference, all of whom appeared to be wearing the same cobalt suit. Honestly, you feel like an elephant trying to hide in an ant farm turning up in local newspaper reporter gumshoes.

Of course, who comes to conference is not necessarily reflective of the nationwide membership but the lack of diversity is aching. It was perhaps best revealed at a meeting in Manchester Town Hall on Monday at which members were asked by a thinktank to come up with ways to make the party more appealing to young voters apparently seduced by Jeremy Corbyn.

“Don’t make Jacob Rees-Mogg the leader” came one suggestion, to which former university minister David Willetts countered that at least he brought an authenticity to his politics and had the same say-what-you-really-think quality of the Labour leader, gliding over the fact that we perhaps have never heard what Corbyn really thinks about Europe in the past two years.

David Willetts speaking at a fringe meeting discussing how to get more younger voters to support the Tories

If Rees-Mogg is not your man, how about Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, who we were told at the same meeting likes grime music just as much as Corbyn as he apparently “clicked” with Skepta at some music awards. Then came the view that the party should stop droning on about the Winter of Discontent and the 1970s, as they were no longer reference points that youth recognised, while there were familiar calls to get on social media.

It felt as if there might need to be a little more brainstorming before they crack the code. Certainly some in the room didn’t know what Snapchat is, let alone a Skepta. He’s a young musical artist, m’lud.

The suit uniformity across conference, however, is why the Camden Conservative group – still turning up in great numbers to conference despite it being farther away than the seaside and following some obvious electoral disappointments – stand out as different, and more interesting.

It has its own dashing young chaps in the aforementioned blue suits, but Tim Barnes, the Holborn and St Pancras parliamentary candidate just gone, changed the script by turning up dressed as Sherlock Holmes at least, while you won’t find starched collars from the likes of association chairman Gio Spinella and certainly not Jonny Bucknell, who is still kipping in his car at these events.

The party agent is covered in heavy metal tattoos, while, as sad as it sounds, there aren’t many associations who have a young black teacher in their ranks. Of course, it’s not what you wear, it’s what you say, but with Labour pressing in London to wipe out the opposition at next year’s council elections in several boroughs, this different look, a different take could funnily enough provide some insulation from the more chaotic aspects of the national organisation.

No longer, it’s possible to imagine, will they want to be badged as “Theresa May’s local candidates”, but simply local candidates sorting out your bins.

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