Sir: When my late father, John McKee, stood as Conservative candidate for South Shields in the 1970 general election he gained 19,960 votes, more even than David Miliband in the same constituency 40 years later. In last week’s by-election in the South Shields constituency, the Conservative candidate attracted only 2,857 votes. Many things have changed since 1970 but one important thing that is different is that in those days the local Conservative party had a large number of working-class members helping in the campaign; there was even a flourishing Conservative Trade Union organisation in the constituency. Nor was South Shields unique in this respect. Conservative Members of Parliament were elected in several industrial areas including Glasgow, Newcastle upon Tyne and Sunderland.
Nearly all this working-class support has disappeared and the Conservative party appears to have given up on Scotland and most of northern England. If it wishes to reverse this trend, it needs to rediscover the ‘one-nation’ Toryism which served the party so well in the days before what is loosely termed Thatcherism polarised the nation.
When Harold Macmillan stated, back in 1957, ‘most of our people have never had it so good’, he was criticised for unseemly self-satisfaction but not for the veracity of the statement. In recent history there have been, no doubt, some who have never had it so good, but no politician today would attempt to make such an incendiary statement to the population at large. Conservatives will never regain full political power until the party represents again all geographical areas of the country and the needs and aspirations of a much broader swath of the British population.
(Dr) Ian McKee
Sir: I have been considering Norman Tebbit’s and others’ recently expressed views concerning the Conservative party’s need to shift Tory party policy rightward in view of the number of disaffected Tories voting for Ukip. This seems to me to betray a startling lack of consistency. When disaffected Conservatives were voting for the SDP/Liberal Alliance in much larger numbers in the early 1980s, I do not seem to remember Mr Tebbit and his friends urging a leftward shift in policy to respond to such loss of support. Very odd.
Dr John Hyder-Wilson
Worthing, West Sussex
Letters are best
Sir: Molly Guinness (‘Thanks but no thanks’, 4 May) is very wide of the mark if she thinks the use of email prevents cliché and banality. Her assertion that ‘Platitudes by post are not worth the stamp’ is nonsense. Perhaps if she had taken up a pencil and a sheet of paper to draft her short article instead of dashing it off on her computer, she may have avoided such nonsense as to suggest that a simple thank-you letter can invoke ‘anxiety and resentment on a scale sufficient to cause the sender to be psychologically crippled under the burden of his own gratitude’. What blather! A handwritten note of gratitude is a demonstration of thought given and trouble taken. Thanks by email? Just hit the delete button.
Coulsdon, Surrey (by email)
Leave towpaths alone
Sir: Laura Raymond (Letters, 4 May) shows the usual arrogance and intolerance of the cycling lobby. How can it be ‘high-handed and elitist’ to want to preserve a pleasant grass path in the country rather than have it covered in tarmac? Melissa Kite is spot on. Another major way in which the cyclists are desecrating the countryside is by building roads for cyclists beside the canals. Towpaths, which were pleasant footpaths, are being converted into racetracks for commuting cyclists who have no interest in the waterways, and who contribute nothing to their upkeep, and are a far cry from ‘lock wheelers’ who were content to ride to the next lock along a bumpy track and risk a dip in the canal while doing so.
Sustrans is mainly responsible for this barbarism. I wonder if anyone else has noticed that anything termed ‘sustainable’ is out to destroy our precious environment?
Hattersley and Chatsworth
Sir: Anne Somerset seemed put out by Roy Hattersley’s disapproval of the Devonshires (Books, 4 May). Those of us who were aware of Hattersley’s then dyed-in-the-wool left-wing sympathies when he was a member of Sheffield City Council in the late 1950s and early 1960s will not have been surprised. In 1960, Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire, was drafted into the Conservative government by his uncle, Harold Macmillan, in what the Duke himself later described as ‘the greatest act of nepotism ever’.
A fellow socialist acolyte of Hattersley was a reporter on the now defunct Sheffield Telegraph newspaper, where I was a trainee reporter in the early 1960s. When told by the news editor to report on a Conservative party fundraising event at Chatsworth, he was heard to shout across the newsroom: ‘Not bloody likely. It’s time the whole fucking thing was turned into council flats.’
Hove, East Sussex
Doling out fines
Sir: Your editorial (4 May) exposed the unfairness of council enforcement ‘officers’ reaping rewards in proportion to the fines they dole out. Another financial penalty of which many are unaware is the absurd ‘victim surcharge’, which in instances of speeding offences is in reality often no more than an additional fine on top of the statutory fine for a given offence, along with points on a driving licence. For someone to be ‘surcharged’ in this way, when there is no victim, is as ridiculous as fining a Welsh pensioner for discarding a cigarette butt that had stuck to his shoe.
Anthony J. Burnet
East Saltoun, East Lothian