Recently an off the cuff comment made in a Council Meeting gave me food for thought, writes Amanda Jenner.
My interpretation of their comment was that they were surprised so many of the Conservatives had supported a motion calling for increased awareness of Hate Crime. Perhaps this was an honest astonishment that the Conservatives would support an opposing party’s motion. Yet, mulling over this and other commentaries, I have started to think more about the perception of a Conservative and the view that we are mostly pale and stale, uncaring or ignorant males.
I have thought for a while that the Welsh Conservatives need to do more to challenge the perception of what some wrongly imagine a typical ‘Conservative’ to be. Still, I am saddened that there are those who consciously wish to spread this image for their own agenda.
I am sure that most of Gwydir’s readership know that the reality is very different from the perception. We know that within the Conservative Party we have doctors, nurses and teachers amongst us; that our members include PhD students and academics, armed service personnel, blue-collar, white-collar and no collar. We have members with different faiths and sexualities; we have a Senedd Candidate who is the founding director of a food bank trust, members who grew up in care as well as those who grew up privileged and donate and volunteer generously to others in need.
Of course, we have plenty of white men in our party and many of these are inspirational men who work tirelessly for things to be better in Wales. They are smart, dedicated and give their lives to public service. They are wonderfully brave and aren’t afraid to speak up and fight for what they believe in, only to be called ‘gammon’.
Despite compassion and variety, many of us conservatives continue to be on the receiving end of comments and commentary, which I sometimes think is designed to continue the fallacy of the typical Tory. Thankfully, I am starting to see this fallacy erode, particularly as more and more varied members join the Conservatives. I wonder though whether those who continue to seek to spread the illusion are becoming more dogged in their endeavours.
The side effect of this continued effort to spread their version of a ‘Tory’, whether intended or not, is that it often sets off waves of internet abuse.
Here is where the fallacy has the potential to checkmate the electorate!
Keep up the abuse; tell us to leave our own country or in the extreme cases, to kill ourselves; slate our physical appearance; call us thick, a clown, a disgrace… we risk well-meaning and talented public servants leaving behind these endeavours, or worse, never putting themselves forward. I sincerely hope that this is a small risk, and I know from speaking to others that they, like me, despite the abuse are determined to carry on trying to do their bit for a better Wales.
Of course it isn’t just the Conservatives who receive abuse. There are those on the right who also dish it out and should be condemned for doing so. We must pledge to not stoop to these levels. I would like to see a cross-party commitment to drill down codes of conduct to members and activists. An effort from each party to deal with unacceptable conduct, so that if we see or hear of comments made by our own activists, which are designed to ignite abuse towards others, that we will deal with those members accordingly.
Finally, I know we have more to do as a party to continue to encourage people from all backgrounds, faiths, ethnicities and genders to stand for office. That ambition continues and I am proud to have mentored other women with political ambition. My request to Conservative politicians at all levels is: if a role model has mentored you or given you the encouragement to stand, then pay that forward; go and be a mentor yourself, find that person who will bring a new background or perspective to the party and then ask them to stand.
Together we will continue to challenge the inaccurate perception; we will continue to not let the abuse scar and we will carry on working hard for a better Wales.
Amanda Jenner is a Councillor on Powys County Council and is the Welsh Conservative Senedd Candidate for Ceredigion.