David Cameron has sought to reassure his party workers that he loves them really. We shall see if he has put Loongate to bed when they meet him at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester this autumn.


There is nothing new in this story of tension between the Conservative leadership and the poor bloody infantry who get them elected. A former Tory leader, Arthur Balfour, remarked a hundred years ago that he would rather take advice from his valet than the Conservative Party conference.


But this tension between party leaderships and grass root activists is not confined to the Tories.


Before Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson spoilt it all, the Labour Party conference used to be the occasion for a really interesting debate between pragmatic leaders who had one eye on the voters, and left wing activists who wanted the revolution tomorrow. That tension is still there but it is masked by party managers who want Labour to fight from the centre ground.


The result is that the Labour Party conference has become schizophrenic. On the debating floor, a series of anodyne debates are staged whilst on the fringes a really dynamic conversation is taking place. The public aren’t fooled and many party members leave mainstream politics in despair.


It is also true of the Liberal Democrats, and their predecessor party the Liberals. In the sixties and seventies there was tremendous tension between the then leader Jeremy Thorpe and the Young Liberals led by Peter Hain (now an ex Labour Minister). That tension resurfaced when the Lib Dems and the Social Democrats merged, bringing into the Alliance people like David Owen who believed in Britain’s nuclear deterrent.


An old friend of mine, Viv Bingham, who sadly died last year, lead a strong campaign for unilateralism.

He was at one time President of the Party, but always had an uneasy relationship with leaders like David Steel. Viv represented a distinctive trend of northern Liberalism committed to the cooperative movement, public service and opposition to nuclear weapons. It is interesting that the Southport MP John Pugh is calling this weekend on his party to recognise the different northern priorities as the Lib Dems prepare for the General Election campaign.


What Tory activists, left wing Labour supporters and radical Liberal Democrats are all battling against is the mentality of the London elite. Politicians in power get sucked into the world of civil servants who know little of life beyond the M25. Then they are surrounded by special advisers who have little sympathy with the fact that the ministers only got their because of the hard work of activists who believe in distinctive Tory, Socialist or Liberal principals.


Of course some of the ideas of grass roots activists are idealistic, too expensive or would turn off the voters. However the disconnect in the three main parties between the leadership and the grass roots, partly explains the rise of UKIP.


In my opinion many of them are swivel-eyed loons, but there is no gap between them and their leader Nigel Farage.





How long will the Lib Dem grass roots allow Nick Clegg to stay in a coalition where right wing Tory backbenchers call all the shots? David Cameron has had to placate them this week and his Lib Dem partners just look on in dismay.


I don’t think enough has been said about the sacking of Ken Clarke, for that is what it is. I know he can still attend Cabinet as Minister Without Portfolio. Without power or influence more like. I’m surprised he didn’t resign outright. For a man who has been Chancellor and Home Secretary to hang on in this way is undignified. It gives a cloak of respectability to what has really happened.


The last Tory with a sane view on our relations with the European Union (and prison policy) has been removed. So now the decks are clear for the vicious circle to accelerate. The anti EU press will continue to mislead the public about Europe, the politicians will respond and before we know it we will be having an in-out referendum. The nation will vote to come out of the EU, then stand by for an economic slump that will make this one look like prosperity.


But back to the reshuffle and further evidence of a swing to the right. The new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has been brought in to smooth the way for a third runway at Heathrow which will ignore the strong case to develop our regional airports. Promises of this being the greenest government yet were already withering, and that’s set to continue with Owen Paterson in charge at Environment. By the way hard luck to Liverpool’s Peter Cranie on not getting the leadership of the Green Party this week.


Sayeeda Warsi is another Cabinet Minister who should have made a clean break. The former Tory Chairman has taken a minor job at the Foreign Office. It’s a blow for ethnic minority representation in the government. I liked her down to earth approach and she impressed a gathering of Tory grass roots members meeting in Liverpool recently. It’s a shame.


Tory talent in the North West has been almost totally overlooked by the Prime Minister with the exception of the spiky and talented Esther McVey. The Wirral West MP is a rare asset for the Conservative Party. A media savvy business woman from Merseyside she’s got an interesting first job in government. She’s a Minister at Work and Pensions. The Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith refused to move and will fight to implement his universal credit benefit system. The Treasury is worried about the new system’s dependence on a vast computer network. We know from past experience that central government and big computer systems mean a big price tag and almost certain failure.


McVey is the only North West promotion. What about Pendle’s Andrew Stephenson, Preston North’s Ben Wallace and Lancaster’s Eric Ollerenshaw. He’s an older politician with good local government experience. Instead Eric Pickles is rewarded for his abolition of the North West Development Agency and more seriously the Audit Commission with an extension of his term. I suppose his value is as a bit of northern rough among the southern posh boys.