Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Dining With Macmillan

It’s not often that one gets the chance to visit London’s famous Carlton Club, which must be one of the ultimate bastions of English Tory society. With the general election in sight, I’ve been informally recruited to join the ranks of the Conservative Party, and as such, a friendly invitation was proffered to the Carlton Club’s young members’ cocktail party mixer last night. It certainly was more “cocktail party” than “mixer,” or, for that matter, “young.” But I get ahead of myself.

Being a classy, stiff-upper-lip establishment, a suit and tie dress code is strictly enforced, as is a non-mobile phone policy. It is a male-only members club, and strictly for Conservatives, though women can join as “adjunct” members or something. Margaret Thatcher famously was made an honourary man (!) by the club so she could be admitted; tons of Iron Lady memorabilia everywhere, as well as a couple of key portraits of the likes of Disraeli and Churchill. Beautiful building.

Met two people who impressed me: one was Jonathan Djanogly MP, who took over for John Major in the Huntingdon constituency, a pretty big honour. He apparently is one of the rising Tory stars, and there were no shortage of well-wishers looking to shake his hand. I asked him the same question I asked of all the MPs and prospective candidates I met, which was to give me the three reasons why I should vote Tory in the upcoming election. This is where my North American accent betrayed the answer I got. The stock answer to this question, it seemed from the half-dozen Tories I asked, is thus: number one, freedom, number two, smaller government and lower taxes, and number three, “The Nation,” capital “T”, capital “N”. No big surprise, but nobody seemed willing to give me a coherent answer to why defending “The Nation” was so important. Probably because I’m a pseudo-foreigner. Whatever.

The other interesting chap that I met was Giles Bancroft, the head of Conservatives Direct. CD is in charge of the Tory get-out-the-vote effort, and after I revealed myself as a Kerry campaigner, we exchanged notes on election strategy. The Tories have invested heavily in a Karl Rove-approved database product that identifies potential voters by certain demographic qualities, from the types of magazines you subscribe to, to the estimated value of your house. Bancroft told me that they had identified hundreds of thousands of new Tory voters with this system, and that it could be a major factor in this election. A bit optimistic perhaps, but the Tory formula appears to be: hope for a low overall turnout, nail these formerly unidentified voters, and push hard on a couple of key constituencies. There are reports that in a few formerly strong Labour ridings, the Labour Party has all but given up, putting manpower and resources elsewhere. I have had my doubts about whether the election would be close, but with the recent polls showing the Tories tightening up the race with Labour (to within 2% nationwide in one recent polls), May 5 might be a long and interesting night.

The difficulty with the night in general is that the wine and gin and tonics were flowing, as they are wont to do at a good Tory function, and this made coherent conversation a bit more difficult as time went on. We adjourned for dinner in the Macmillan Room (photograph above), probably the classiest London dining room I’ve eaten in. I will not reveal names here, but there was one Canadian guy who (inexplicably) spoke with an English accent, and who claimed to have known he was a Tory while he was still in the womb. (We did agree on one thing: it makes no sense for Canadian conservatives, small or large C, to form knee-jerk alliances with the Republicans, whether it’s because they’re jealous of their success or otherwise.) I then met a young Tory member who is from Watford, Hertfordshire, which happens to be the constituency of Labour MP Claire Ward, for whom I worked in 2000. I offered to dish out the dirt if the price was right. Now, if only I had some dirt to dish.

The true piece de resistance to the classy night occurred on the way out, when I stumbled into the bathroom, desperate to try the free shoe shining machine before I left. I hit the power button and the buffing brushes began to spin, giving my shoes a healthy veneer, but within a matter of seconds my left shoelace was stuck deep within the bowels of the machine and could not be removed. It took the two of us to pull the lace out as the shoe shiner continued to whirr madly. I thought there might be a parable in there somewhere. Still working on it.


Blogger The Tiger said...

If I were a more suspicious person, I would begin to suspect that the Canadian with an English accent might otherwise be known as the one-man global content provider. But he's probably in New Hampshire living free (and therefore not dying).

8:24 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home