Interview: DU Conservative Association, ‘The Essence of Our Society’

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With swathes of the Labour Party still reeling from the bruising election campaign last May, the prevailing mood among Conservatives, understandably, couldn’t be in more contrast. Though surprised as he was jubilant, Rhys Tanner – President of DUCA – hailed the mobilising impact of the victory, with 100 new members joining their ranks at the Freshers’ Fair, boasting some of their best-ever membership figures.

In my interview with Durham Labour Club last week, also celebrated the renewed participation en masse within the party, and the Durham branch, since the election. With both parties generating encouraging membership figures, you get the imminent sense that change is afoot in British politics. Certainly George Osbourne and Jeremy Corbyn frequently say so, but the sentiment also appears to have filtered down into the grassroots level too. “The General Election has helped both parties to define themselves” in terms which more people can identify with, agrees Rhys, who quickly denounces the rather unfair label attributed to Durham as being a particularly depoliticised university. With continually strong turnouts at DUCA weekly socials, speaker events, and campaign days, there is very little reason to believe that Durham students are rife with political apathy.

Similar to Corbyn’s rhetoric of the necessity to construct a ‘social movement’, Rhys emphasises the quasi-autonomous position of DUCA, and its ever-widening broach church now extending far beyond the narrow confines of the Conservative Party itself. “DUCA provides an opportunity for like-minded people, the small c conservatives,” to come together on an engaging networking platform. It is an apt reminder that conservatism is far more than just what the party says it is. With libertarians, traditional Tories, and even market anarchists, DUCA is proof of the importance to shed the reductive view of conservatism as stuck within the ivory towers of the Kensington elite.

With Osborne demonstrating his political acumen once again in his Autumn Statement last Wednesday, the conversation inevitably turns towards 2020, and the question of who will lead the party in the post-Cameron era. Though acknowledging the immensely talented candidates who have already emerged, Rhys makes an interesting prediction of an outsider, not yet known, to stake a strong claim for the leadership; just as Churchill, Thatcher and Cameron himself had done, adding even further talent to the burgeoning pool within the party. Yet amidst the optimism, he cannot resist a sideswipe at the opposition. “Labour certainly didn’t have that problem; all their talented candidates dropped out.”

Despite the jab, I press Rhys for something he admires about the new Labour leader. To my surprise, he is rather complementary. “Corbyn is very genuine and principled” and, crucially, not a career politician. With Labour seemingly reinvigorated, I wonder if the Conservatives are set to surpass their sell-by date in 2020. “I don’t think so,” replies Rhys, “2010 was about fixing the economy, 2015 was about us continuing the job we started, and 2020 will be about us sustaining and growing the economy”. I could be forgiven for double-checking it isn’t the Chancellor himself sat in front of me. Yet the message is clear, and Rhys and DUCA remain ever-enthusiastic in their drive to achieve it.

As he heads off to a speaker event with the 2015 Durham Conservative Parliamentary candidate, Rebecca Coulson, Rhys reaffirms his message, pervasive throughout our interview, for students to join the eventful and always welcoming DUCA. Come along and learn about conservatism, he concludes, “the essence of our society”.

Photograph: DUCA via Facebook 

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