The Mid-Atlantic Blog

December 13, 2005

Michael Gove Is A Diversity Pick, Honest!

A really surprising set of responses today on Conservativehome's torydiary to the news of the junior front bench appointments. I was particularly struck by the reactions to the appointment of Michael Gove. You can see my initial reaction halfway down the comments stream. I've had more of a chance to think about this since.

There is, of course, a perfectly rational argument (though one with which I don't agree) that there should be no appointments to front bench posts until a new member has spent a few years in the house. This would be great in a world where we were doing very well, and where there was time.

The problem is that that isn't where we are. There are so many different things that we need to do to change, and to get back into power.

The big issue underlying it all is diversity. The way that we've talked about this so far is relating to candidates (look at the great big dance-around-the-handbags that we had with the announcement of the Gold list by those who were clear it was the end of the world). The diversity challenge, though, goes much further than that - to the very heart of the party. Until being a Tory is normal - in fact until it's actually pretty cool (at least in so far as being a supporter of any party can be cool), we are up the creek. This can happen, too. Just look at the US, where there is a vital and interesting multi-generational conservative movement, of all shades of conservative opinion. We need dialogue. We need a community; we need a community that is much, much broader than the one we have now. A more active Conservative blogosphere would be a good start.

You know what that means though? It means that many of the people that are very comfortable in the current surroundings will be much less so. This doesn't mean driving them out, or picking on them. It's just a natural result of the process of becoming, you know, popular. Like a real political party is. Lots of the new people will be new. That means they're not today members of the party. They haven't done lots of time on the streets. They may be from non-traditional backgrounds for conservatives (social workers, for example, or university graduates, who are somewhat less conservative now than they damned well should be). Many of them will fit nicely into the current structure of local associations. Lots of them won't. Some might have made a living writing political commentary, some of which no doubt won't have been terribly flattering to the Party over the last few years. (In fact, if it was flattering I'd suggest that they are so disconnected from the real world as to be in need of a little lie down).

Now, it's important I stress here that I'm not saying that people that don't like this direction are racist, sexist, homophobic, heightist, or biased against people who live in Ongar. They just like the way their party is at the moment. The problem is that the rest of us just can't let it stay that way.

The key is how we use these new people to develop our ideas and build our party. Saying "they weren't involved during the depths of the Hague years" or "but he's only just entered the House" just doesn't cut it any more. Worse, saying that he shouldn't be promoted just because he's mates with the leader is just barking. If they are good we need them. And we need them now.

That leaves the other arguments about how good Michael actually is and what he believes. I firmly believe the answer to the first question is "extremely" and the answer to the second is "in the election of the next Conservative government". We'll see.
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