The Hammersmith Conservative Association will shortly be looking for a candidate to run against the sitting Labour MP in 2015 and I’m thinking of applying. But by God, it’s a tough decision.
On the face of it, the case against is pretty overwhelming. The local MP, Andy Slaughter, has a majority of 3,549 and on current projections there will be a swing away from the Tories in London. The Conservatives fielded a strong candidate in 2010 in the form of Shaun Bailey and still couldn’t win it. What hope would I have in 2015 — and that’s assuming I get selected, by no means a foregone conclusion? I’ve spoken to several members of the association and their view is that the successful candidate would have to be prepared to devote every waking moment to the campaign, not least because Slaughter is such a good constituency MP. They mean ‘good’ in the sense that he’ll turn up to the opening of an envelope.
One of the reasons he can do this is because politics is his life. He’s unmarried and childless, which means he doesn’t have to do bath-and-bed every night and his weekends are his own. When it comes to attending meetings of the Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group, I wouldn’t be able to compete. Not a good starting point. Running a parliamentary campaign in a marginal constituency is a full-time job and, quite apart from the wife and kids, I already have a full-time voluntary job as chairman of the West London Free School Academy Trust. We’ve opened two schools so far and we’re planning to open at least six more. I spend 40 to 60 hours a week on Trust business, which leaves little time for paid work, let alone more voluntary work.
Even if I secured the nomination, what’s the upside? The campaign itself would inevitably be an unpleasant experience in which all the embarrassing stuff I’ve ever done would be dug up and used against me. Not difficult since I’ve dredged up most of it myself in the pages of this magazine. As Kingsley Amis once said, ‘Never make a joke against yourself that some little bastard can turn into a piece of shit and send your way.’
Suppose I won. Then what? I’d be faced with the pride-swallowing siege that is the life of a newly elected MP. Forget about affairs of state. The only decision I’d have to make would be who to suck up to more, George Osborne or John Bercow? Neither prospect fills me with joy. Being a backbench MP is drudge work for the most part and I’d have to take a salary cut to do it. Once upon a time, MPs could expect a little respect for devoting themselves to public service, but not any more. Nowadays, you’re regarded as lying, cheating bastard who’s either on the fiddle or having it off with his secretary.
And yet I’m still tempted. True, my chances of getting selected and winning the set would be slim, but those are the kinds of odds I like. I’m one of those people who doesn’t really feel alive unless his back is against the wall. I could go for a safe seat instead, but where would be the fun in that? If the Conservatives are returned in 2015 with an overall majority, and I beat Andrew Slaughter in the process, I would feel as if I’d contributed to that victory. The satisfaction of having helped keep Labour out would be a source of comfort during the five years in the salt mines that followed.
I won’t pretend the brickbats thrown at me during the campaign wouldn’t hurt, but I’d be a sorry excuse for a man if I let that put me off. I’ve long ago learnt that the best defence against people bad-mouthing you is to continue to behave decently and honourably. You must judge yourself by your actions, even if others won’t. To paraphrase Kipling, don’t deal in lies even if you’re lied about, and don’t give way to hating even if you’re hated.
Finally, and most importantly, I love this dirty rotten country. So what if people have a low opinion of politicians? I don’t want to be an MP because of any special status it might bring. Like the majority of people who embark on this treadmill, I’d be doing it out of a sense of patriotic duty and the belief that my lot would be better for the country than the other lot.
As I say, a tough decision. And I’m going to have to decide whether to go for it in the next few weeks.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.