12 July 2008

Fog on the Tyne

Writing a post - pursuant to a new resolution, following a phone conversation this morning with Mike Semple Piggott - for my other blog, IPso Jure, I found myself involved in one of those digressions that so easily seem to distract me. And in part it came about because yesterday, at Quorum Training, where I was running a course on data protection (see previous posting) I encountered an old political acquaintance who was also running a course.

Having established that he was who I thought he was, he asked me which wing of the party I'd been on - I answered "same as you", which made him smile: the whole conversation was a throwback to a competely different era, one in which it was necessary to be a little cagey about saying too much, one in which disloyalty (to the leader, that is, not necessarily to the party) was treated just a little (OK, a very little) like the way it would have been treated in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. I remembered my interlocutor haranguing Party Conference from the podium in a debate on capital punishment, him being barracked by the extreme right, and me leaving the conference hall in disgust and as a precaution against the likelihood that I might take direct action against some of the headbangers. He told me that it was otherwise: perhaps the debate was not on capital punishment (party managers generally had the sense to keep that off the agenda, and therefore off live national television), and his recollection was that he got into trouble by asking what the purpose of the Monday Club might be. A good question, perhaps. It was certainly a low point in my time as a member of the Conservative Party.

On the other hand, the meeting with the redundant shipyard workers (from Readheads Ship Repairers in South Shields), and the subsequent petition, the visit to Downing Street, the re-opening of the yard as a workers' co-operative (that most Conservative of business organisations), the award lunch at which their efforts were recognised and the Early Day Motion in the Commons calling (unsuccessfully) on the Ministry of Defence to send the Sir Tristram to them for repairs to the damage suffered in the Falklands War (which attracted the signatures of two MPs, Michael Fallon whom I had talked into tabling it, and Richard Needham, which neatly bracketed almost the entire breadth of the broad church that was the Parliamentary Conservative Party): those were the undoubted high points of my career in the party. I think I even included a plea for the Sir Tristram work in the speech I made to Party Conference that autumn, which was another high point in my political career - unfortunately there were not many more after that!

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