Boris loomed large among this majority-minority crowd
The most interesting thing about the final Tory hustings last night at the Wembley arena was neither Truss nor Sunak: it was the audience. Clearly, London is not the rest of England — and London Tories are not typical of English Tories — but here was a slice of the Conservative coalition that defies the cliché and is a crucial pillar of support if the party is going to have a long term future.
Large numbers of young faces peppered the crowd in amongst the older fusties. And the hall was, without doubt, majority-minority; that is, most of the Conservative Party members there were non-white. A far cry from the ‘angry old white man’ stereotype.
They cheered as their fighters entered the ring for one final time (only months ago the arena had been the setting for Tyson Fury’s last ever boxing match) — Liz Truss to Taylor Swift, Rishi Sunak to The Weeknd.
But in front of this crowd, the figure who loomed largest wasn’t on the stage. One frustrated member announced that he “wanted to vote for Boris” in this election, a choice cruelly denied to him by those damned MPs. “We all wanted to vote for Boris”, consoled his comrade. “Labour wouldn’t have done this,” replied his interlocutor. “They keep their leaders”.
I spoke to one man, a cheerful 70-something Ugandan Asian man who had fled Idi Amin’s rule. Variously throughout the night he railed against both illegal and mass immigration, cooed over Ian Duncan Smith and laughed with the candidates while they bashed London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Pro-Rishi, Mr Patel took pride in revealing that he had “never taken one pound from the state.” This was his first Conservative Party hustings since becoming a member in the 1980s, he told me, in-between his phone going off loudly multiple times.
Michael Gove arrived on the stage, and received a rapturous applause for his hagiography of Boris Johnson, the man he branded unfit to govern just 6 years ago and by whom he was fired in the last few weeks. This was followed by a declaration of support for Sunak.
The debate itself was a case study in non-answers to non-questions, with a lot of promises to ‘consider’ proposals (such as scrapping the national speed limit) without any firm commitments.
But the event was a reminder of the most overlooked Tory archetype, rarely glimpsed beyond the mythologised “red wall” voter or the Southern “shire Tory”: the urban Conservative. Often from an immigrant background, proud of their work ethic and hard-won success, ambivalent about further waves of immigration, uninterested in fashionable Lefty causes.
My new acquaintance’s parting words, said with a laugh but with a streak of sincerity: “Thank goodness we’re Conservatives.”