These dinners have always been events to look forward to. It is a time when we leave our wives/partners elsewhere and have a good chin-wag about the state of the world and how, if we were in charge, we would make the world a better place (and believe me the group has all the quality skills and experience required for running a modern country and/or global company). My favourite one of the two dinners is held later in the autumn when we get a good deal at a country house hotel and stay Friday overnight (the spring dinner is usually a simple upmarket London affair). The conversation and debate continue into breakfast the next day and we are normally joined by those attendees who have moved overseas or have to travel long distances, which makes the whole event a more compelling 'catch up' (want to know what it's like to live an expat life in Mauritius - I now know!). At some recent dinners we have even had some interesting foreign guests join us to broaden our outlook still further (it's amazing how language barriers fade away after a few bottles of wine!).
As we start 2013, things are not all well however. The state of the country and the Conservative Party under the leadership of David Cameron and George Osborne is stressing relationships among my dinner companions. At the last dinner, the arguments of The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) were put under the microscope both during dinner and afterwards. One attendee for example, had researched the UKIP policies on small business, which I like many others at the table found to be surprisingly appealing and well thought through. Unfortunately, to others all such discussion about a rival party to the Tories was 'treachery'. Round robin emails (BTW Guys, I hate this form of communication) during the first week of December exchanging points and counter-points on the intricacies of the UKIP platform made things worse and my friends seemed to exhibit passions that I had not seen in them for quite some time!
Then on 10 December came the bombshell that one of our number had 'defected' to UKIP. "Mark Hughes a former leader of North Hertfordshire District Council, who was Mayor of Royston in 1990/91, has joined UKIP..." read the web posting of a local paper (see Former Tory town mayor joins UKIP) and my dinner companions were off and running again with those damn emails!
Now, I know Mark as one of the most successful Independent Financial Advisers in the UK and someone whose economic and financial expertise should be incorporated into Treasury thinking (is there still such a thing?). I also know that he is not a man to do things without all due consideration and whilst not a shock to me, I understand that this was a big step for him. As well as his previous role in the local Conservative Party, Mark has also stood twice for the Party in parliamentary elections. Such commitment takes time and money so this was not the action of someone who is merely 'playing' politics. I will leave you to follow Mark on Twitter to hear of his most recent views on UKIP (follow Mark here on Twitter) but if people like Mark (monied, knowledgeable, energetic and passionate) are leaving the Conservative party, then they have much to worry about. So far, all the Prime Minister seems to be doing is insulting his potential UKIP supporters (here). Causing me even more disappointment is the once 'sound' Chairman of the Party, Grant Shapps, who seems to have backed himself and the Party into a corner on this issue (here).
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out both for my dinner friends and the Conservative Party as we run into the 2015 election. At present I am sticking with my local Conservative member of parliament (Richard Harrington MP) as in all my years in politics I have never known a better constituency MP who seems to broadly support a centre right, free market, agenda. But there are some big issues coming up before the election which he must be on the right side of to continue to receive my vote in this 3-way marginal seat (a clear cut referendum on Europe being one of them!). So even if no one else is, I will be watching this space!
The next dinner is scheduled for late April. If Ballsy Thinking (and compromise!) has ever been required, I fear it will be at this event. A subsequent blog piece will record generic developments for prosperity.
Are you thinking of switching, or have you switched, to UKIP from the Conservative Party? What advice can you give me for helping to get all my dinner companions back around the table (and, sorry since we are not in the officers mess NOT talking politics is NOT an option!)? Click on the comments link below and start typing...