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I was inside Downing Street on the day the election was called


CSJ is the think tank set up by Ian Duncan Smith 20 years ago after his ‘road to Damascus moment’ visiting local activists in Easterhouse in the east end of Glasgow.

Over the years the CSJ has researched and campaigned on a wide range of social policy issues, and each year granted awards to charities across the UK who have been addressing major poverty consequences’ differently and effectively. My charity, WorkingRite, was the winner in 2010 for our programme of mentored work placements for young people.

The CSJ’s plan was to celebrate their two decades of activity by throwing a party for all previous award winners, and what better venue for a bash than Downing Street! When the invite arrived in April, the time set for our rendezvous at Number 10 was 4.30pm. Then, the Friday before the event, I received an email telling me that ‘due to unforeseen circumstances’, we were being shifted to two hours later. Clearly something more important than an assortment of charity leaders knocking back the vino had bumped us out of our slot. Little did we know.

People who know me might wonder what I am doing rubbing shoulders with Tories. I am, after all a member of the SNP and a former member of the Communist Party. I don’t hate Tories. I disagree with them for sure, and I’ll never vote for them, but the individuals I’ve encountered personally from that tribe, have been decent human beings with a social conscience.

I met a lot of them back in 2010 when we won our award. Up close Ian Duncan Smith is courteous, listens well and is actually quite funny. However, the one who impressed me most was David Willetts, minister for universities in Cameron’s cabinet. His thinking on the challenges the young have inherited is right up my street, as the title of his book spells out: The Pinch – How the baby boomers took their children’s future and why they should give it back.

I had quite a few meetings in Westminster with David (Lord) Freud in the run up to the 2010 general election. He was interested to know whether our WorkingRite method had any lessons for an incoming Conservative government led by David Cameron when it came to tackling unemployment. He liked the thinking behind our model: of small business people mentoring the young in the workplace. But thankfully, we were just too small to have any real influence. (In retrospect, we dodged a bullet there.)

In all my conversations with them I was upfront about my SNP allegiances. But it didn’t deter them; quite the reverse in fact. On one visit David Freud showed me round the Palace of Westminster and we debated Scottish independence along the way. He even admitted at one point that he would be quite comfortable with ‘letting Scotland go’, and that it was absolutely our decision if we wanted to spread our wings and fly solo. Mind you he was pretty convinced that we would live to regret it.

Freud then sent me an invite to the Tory conference in Manchester that year, two months before the election. I couldn’t resist it. How often in life do you get a free pass into the heart of the enemy camp?

It was an eye opener. I could see the shape of the Conservative Party to come. If you’ve ever wondered how it is that these days, the Tories seem to have so many more BME politicians that anyone else…well I saw it coming in Manchester in 2010.

A friend challenged me to count the numbers of Thatcher look-a-likes I could see. I saw none. Much more significant, was the number of young Afro-Caribbean men and young Asian women.

So, back to the events of Wednesday 22nd May. After Rishi’s rain-soaked announcement, I slowly mounted that famous staircase inside Number 10, taking the time to look at the portraits of every prime minister there has ever been.

It felt like a whistle-stop tour through the last three centuries; pausing respectfully at Churchill and Atlee, remembering my childhood with Harold Wilson, and then Maggie leaps out - the political bête-noir of my 30’s who shaped much of my politics and created the generational poverty that my charity was created to address; and then you reach the top, and there’s Liz Truss. What a reminder, and thankfully due to be demoted from the top slot by a much more decent human being, Rishi Sunak, on the 5th of July.

The Tories will get the drubbing they deserve, but don’t write them off too soon. Founded by Jacobites in the early 18th century, the Conservatives are the most durable political party in history. If they know nothing else, they know how to change with the times and accommodate the inevitable.

It was the Tories who abolished slavery, ushered in the end of Empire and legalised Gay marriage. On that staircase in number 10 the Conservative and Unionist Party are trouncing all-comers on the gender and racial diversity stakes 4-0, with no sign of any challenger on the horizon.

The threat of Farage-ism will pass or be absorbed. This strange English blend of libertarianism, nationalism, and entitlement – with a dash of traditional values, will endure. The Tories have an inbred appetite for power.

In England anyway, they’ll be back. ■

Sandy takes pleasure in climbing No 10s famous stairwell of former PMs, to find Liz Truss at the summit!



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