Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Malcolm and the ouzelum bird

Diddy Dave Cameron has removed the Tory Whip from Derek Conway. This is because Conway was getting away with a blatant fraud on the public purse. Only a day previously the official Tory line was that a period of Commons exclusion was punishment enough. Not so much a U-turn as instant flying self-sodomy.

So, listen carefully, children. Malcolm will explain this just the once.

There is in West London an area known as Notting Hill. Until recently, it was where Kensington shaded into the definitely down-market Ladbroke Grove. Much of Notting Hill is still unreconstructed bed-sit country. However, a small bit, notably around Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park, has become highly desirable, and areas adjacent thereto have been adopted by Sloane sprogs and wannabes.

Back in 2004, the "young fogies" of the Daily Telegraph identified a phenomenon: the Notting Hill Set. These were a close-knit band of Younger Tory politicos on the make. The focal member was one David "Call me Dave" Cameron (see above).

It is important to bear in mind that little love is lost, but a lot of vitriol spilled, between the Cameroonies and the Telegraphers.

Meanwhile Derek Conway is a Parliamentary retread. He sat for Shrewsbury and Atcham between the 1983 and the 1997 Elections. He had achieved a hard-line right-wing reputation, even voting against his own Party over the Single European Act. In 2001 he succeeded to Ted Heath's Old Bexley seat. In between he had improved the shining hour by running the Cats' Protection League.

Of Conway, the Telegraph approvingly says:
Derek Conway is one of the dying breed of Parliamentary bruisers who has more than a few scars from his role under John Major.

A classic "fixer", the Conservative MP was a whip in the 1990s responsible for hauling out the vote, an often impossible task in the dying days of the Major years...

His encyclopaedic knowledge of the party made him the perfect choice to run David Davis's ill-fated leadership campaign in 2005.
The Davis-Cameron contest was notable for some of the dirtiest tricks in the political manual, as noted in Private Eye in October 2005:
With perfect timing, early editions of the Evening Standard on the day of the second Tory leadership ballot led with the story "Gay Smears and Me, by Tory Hopeful"- the Tory in question being Dr Liam Fox.

Who was behind the smear? "I know for certain that people in the Davis camp were responsible for putting round these false stories," Fox later told the Mail on Sunday. His campaign manager John Hayes directly accused Davis's henchman Derek Conway of planting the story on the Standard.

Not so. The "dossier" on which the story was based had been compiled by dirty-tricks wallahs in the Labour Party- who passed it to David Cameron's lieutenants, who in turn gave it to the Standard. The Cameroonies were determined to prevent a run-off with Fox, who was feared to have more support in constituency associations.

For all their modernising open-necked cool, the Notting Hill set are still adept at the more traditional arts of politics. The queen bee of the set, Rachel Whetstone, was behind last Wednesday's report by BBC political editor Nick Robinson that the runner-up in Thursday's poll would drop out of the race to allow Cameron a "coronation". Alas, what was intended as a self-fulfilling prophecy had the opposite effect: it infuriated Davis and stiffened his resolve to fight on.'
That brings together two names: Conway and Rachel Whetstone. Whetstone was further blamed for the "bed-blocking" business.

Cameron set out from the beginning to be a reformer. He instigated an "A-list" of 140 photogenic potential candidates. These would be eased, or parachuted into winnable seats. Half of these stellar personalities were women; and there was a considerable ethnic mix: neither factor washes well with the Old Tory faithful. The Tory old-stagers, some as old as --- oh, --- fifty or so, were unwilling to move aside to let these thrusting young blades take their old accustomed constituencies: these stalwarts were described as "bed-blockers". (Actually, the term goes back at least to a column by Chris Moncrieff in the Scotsman, 10th May 2004).

It seems that Rachel Whetstone identified Conway as one of these "bed-blockers". The result was:
He came close to a capital offence by virtually wringing her scrawny little neck, and I mean literally. There were witnesses to that event...
Malcolm marvels at how a "virtual" event can also be "literal"; and still not quite happen. Moreover, as David Aaronovitch -- then employed at the Guardian -- noted, far from having a "scrawny little neck", Ms Whetstone is "long-haired and elegant". However, Malcolm suggests we move on.

Now this was hardly a career-advancing move by Conway. He was, after all, threatening a personal injury to one who had been close to the new Leader:
[Cameron's] close friend Rachel Whetstone, another former special adviser who works as Howard's political secretary, is the most influential member of the Tory leader's immediate team. She is godmother to Cameron's first child.
Malcolm is careful to chose his words there, for there are other dimensions to be explored.

Whetstone's squeeze is one Steve Hilton, who is none other than the Director of Strategy (i.e. chief string-puller) at Tory HQ, who also shares the god-parenting of young Ivan Cameron. It was not always so:
After stints at One2One and Portland PR, Whetstone was persuaded back to Westminster in 2003 by [Michael] Howard. Several months later, gossip of an affair with a Tory grandee became uncomfortably loud. The man in question was Viscount Astor, a former government whip and opposition spokesman in the House of Lords. Disastrously, he was also Samantha Cameron’s stepfather.
That, incidentally, from Giles Hattersley at the Sunday Times.

And now Sam's man has done for Conway, the Whetstone abuser.

Small world. Not much navigation space for that ouzelum bird in its ever-decreasing circles.

They used to say that Labour scandals were about money, and that Tory scandals were about sex (which brings us back to the Astors). Presumably Libs/LibDems are too busy taking bunnies to France. So, this little hooha about Conway only disproves the axiom in part ...

... but "Heh, heh, heh!" says Malcolm. Sphere: Related Content

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