Tara Hamilton-Miller: Class is no longer a Tory problem

It has been a good week for straight-talking Essex boys in the Conservative Party.

Tara Hamilton-Miller
Tara Hamilton-Miller

The exotically named Mark Gino Francois, MP for Rayleigh, educated at a comprehensive in Basildon, is now in the shadow cabinet (shadow minister for Europe) and the not so exotically named Eric Pickles, MP for Brentwood, has become party chairman. Pickles is adored in Tory circles. Even the mention of his name brings out national treasure comments – the reception is the equivalent of saying ‘Richard Briers’ at a Women’s Institute daffodil tea. If Pickles wasn’t chairman he would be in Cranford or any other BBC Dickensian Sunday night drama. He’d play a nice shopkeeper who gives liquorice to orphans.

The consensus is that the reshuffle is all about Ken Clarke, but it’s not. It will only be all about Clarke if he lets it. The debate over whether or not a grown man will behave himself is disappointing but justified as Clarke is notoriously difficult.

For those Tory MPs and voters repelled by Ken – and there are quite a few – there are equal numbers of voters who will rejoice that he is back in. Tories who consider his appointment a huge mistake will have to put up and shut up, like Mr Clarke himself.

Alan Duncan, 5’6 inches of bronzed sass, is no doubt disappointed to be moved from the business brief but it could be the making of him. Duncan will relish being up against Harriet Harman. He will make it interesting. The Harman/Theresa May stand-offs were always gloomy, HRT-fuelled head girl scuffles, whereas Duncan is a proper bitch and he dresses like a dream. Grammar school educated new shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, is an ex-BBC producer and Channel 4 editor who understands a good story.

Cameron has raised the game with this reshuffle. Any class-driven Labour taunts will seem ridiculous now. In a world where the old school tie has been relevant, how ironic that Pickles, Francois and Grayling will give Cameron the gravitas of a credible opposition. Get Pickles out there, parade him up and down telling it like it is, and be bloody glad you’ve got him.


Tara Hamilton-Miller is a political adviser and formerly worked for the Conservative Party press team

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