There's something slightly painful about watching the Conservatives attempt to explain their candidate's failure in the Eastleigh by-election. I read a description of the process as being akin to pagan priests inspecting the entrails of a dead carcass in a vain attempt to comprehend how something so impossible could have happened.
It's painful to watch because, to my mind, the Conservative Party losing was so predictable and the reasons for it so obvious. Simply put, no one likes the Tories.
I will caveat everything I say here by owning up to the unfashionable fact that, despite being in my twenties, despite being gay and despite being 'not very conservative', I am a Conservative Party member and work for a Conservative politician. I vote Conservative because I believe that, despite the pathological inability of any minister to say 'I don't know' or 'I messed up', the party is closest to where I stand ideologically.
The fact that no one likes the Tories should not come as a surprise, least of all the backbenches who seem to think the dead carcass is in fact Cameron. Lord Ashcroft's research into why Ukip is doing so well revealed the simple reality. The average man on the street sees the Tories as out of touch, disinterested, complacent and patronising. It's a shame that the Tory leadership have ignored this deeper, more important message. Who can blame Lord Ashcroft for saying 'no more money' for the Party when it ignores the evidence he provided?
The error that the apparatchiks of the party hierarchy are making is that they think mimicking Ukip's manifesto will make the Tories loveable. This is ridiculous. Ukip's manifesto is full of holes, is ideologically inconsistent and is essentially a long list of Daily Mail headlines. Ukip is popular because people think that Nigel Farage understands their fears, worries and insecurities. If you needed a more terrifying indictment of modern British politics, there you have it.
The sad reality is that the Conservative Party is out of date and out of touch with the majority of the British population, as exhibited by the recent debate on gay marriage. The silent majority against gay marriage was in fact a silent minority who actually weren't that phased after all. In the same way that the Labour Party is accused of being a front for the trade unions, the Conservative Party is beholden to its grassroots, who, according to the stereotype, are a bunch of well meaning but socially illiberal pensioners.
Cameron spotted this in the early days and has attempted, unsuccessfully, to 'modernise' the party. Sadly you can try as hard as you like to encourage someone to be a bit more tolerant of gays, but ultimately you won't succeed by saying 'shut up, you bigot'. As long as the grassroots of the party remain predominantly ageing pensioners in the southeast, you aren't likely to make much headway in turning the party into fluffy, tree-hugging social liberals.
The irony is that rather than face up to this rather bad-tasting fact, the party is turning inwards, as it tends to do when it does badly in the polls. Calls for further clampdowns on benefit cheats, closing our borders to the great unwashed, hissing and spitting at the European Union, continuing the delusion that the UK will always be a 'world power': these 'policy ideas' seem to be the order of the day.
In my humble, uninformed opinion, I would suggest that the backbenches consider the following trend, as revealed by several polls. Cameron is more popular than the party he leads. The problem is not simply bad management on Cameron's part. It is equally the fault of the party that the Conservatives are doing so dismally in the polls.
The reaction of most of my peers on revealing my deepest, darkest secret, is the same. It's a look of a slight incomprehension that says something like 'oh gosh, you poor guy, what happened to you as a child to make you think Conservatism is the way to go?' It took me a while to learn that smiling sweetly back at them and saying 'because I hate the poor' isn't very funny. So I have refined my arguments.
I am a Conservative because I am suspicious of myself. Like most human beings, I am prone to bouts of irrational exuberance and misery. My moods change regularly. I buy things I don't need and say things I later regret. I dream of things that will probably never happen and I am convinced that the end of the world is just round the corner.
This is relevant to my politics because if I don't trust myself, why on earth would I trust a bunch of politicians or civil servants to think they know what's best for me? They are just as human as I am. The state is the sum total of many emotional individuals, like myself, and that is why I am suspicious of the state and would prefer it sit in the background, to guide, monitor and enforce when necessary.
I am certainly not suggesting the market is the perfect alternative. For the same reason that I do not trust the state, I do not trust the market. However I think it is by far the least bad option in terms of keeping a complex society and economy from falling apart. It is more responsive than a bureaucracy to the urges and desires of humanity.
I have to remind myself that this is why I am a member of the Conservative Party, in much the same way that many Catholics remain Catholic despite the Church apparently being full of paedophiles. And I know that there are many other people like me, both in and outside the party, who sympathise with the views above.
What people want at the moment is not a bunch of angry, extremist, foaming politicians. They want a clear, rational assessment of where things are going wrong, an explanation of why these things are going wrong and a list of ideas about how things could be made better. At the moment, the Conservatives seem out of their depth, blaming Labour, the EU, the lazy unemployed or immigrants for the country's ills.
Why not be honest for a change, accept a measure of fault for the situation and then ask for help? The way to be liked is to listen, not to preach. This is a principle that goes for political parties as much as it does for individuals.