It's been a tough few years for Conservative Remainers. First the shock Brexit result and then the premiership of Boris Johnson with all that entails. But last night the long-suffering bearers of the torch of Tory moderation gathered together for a rally of the One Nation caucus of Conservative MPs and their supporters within the Tory Reform Group (TRG).
Theresa May's former deputy Damian Green welcomed attendees by quipping that 'the TRG is essentially full of young and beautiful people – if you see people here who are not young and beautiful they may well be members of the One Nation caucus.'
Green, a mainstay of various causes on the left-ish wing of the party over the past two decades, told activists that it was their task to 'make sure that the voice of moderate conservatism, centre-right conservatism is as strong as possible within the party' – a job 'never more important than today because there are times when I slightly feel that it is only people like us that stop this party drifting back to being seen as the nasty party.' A tacit rejoinder to Priti Patel perhaps?
But then it was time for the speaker and the great white hope of Tory moderation. Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, took to the stage to ecstatic applause and, like Green, was under no allusions about the awesome responsibility he and his One Nation caucus members share – to keep the Conservative party effectively sane. He said:
“I have to say that looking at myself in the mirror this morning, I realised that what I am is that fat Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke. What we are doing is holding back a tide, we are standing there to make sure that the values which have built our country endure and persist.
In a ten minute long-speech Tugendhat riffed on the conference's setting in Manchester to lay out his own 'One Nation' vision, railing against 'the four horsemen of nationalism pulling us apart' including 'an English nationalism that also challenges us all', and instead lauding the 'message of genuine, low-tax conservatism, of freedom that underpins it and the liberty that follows it.'
There was also ample time for several potshots at the current Tory leader Boris Johnson, with whom Tugendhat is said to enjoy a wary relationship. Hailing the great feats of Manchester's role in the Industrial Revolution, the latter praised the city's role in 'bringing us together, making those steel horses that connected the country and that you now have to rely on as there isn't any petrol.'
He subsequently moved on to Labour's conference in Brighton – a salutary lesson he said, about the dangers of a party only talking to itself. Tugendhat described looking at Labour's public program, saying: 'I looked at some of the policies: nationalising the railways – sorry we've already done that. Raising taxes – err we've already done that one too. Well I'm sure we'll come to some Conservative policies in a minute...'
Elsewhere there was disparaging talk of 'a party that has a marginal rate of income tax at about 60 per cent, sometimes approaching 70 per cent for some people in our country' compared to 'an actual low tax party.' As Tugendhat himself remarked 'it's pretty extraordinary – we're supposed to be the left of the party and yet somehow I think I'm making points that are slightly to the right of some people at the moment.'
Let's hope the Taxpayers' Alliance extend an invitation to Tugendhat to expound on such views soon.