HENRY DEEDES watches as Tory leadership hopefuls make their pitch

Matt Hancock spoke to the cameras not the audience: HENRY DEEDES watches as Tory leadership hopefuls make their pitchBy Henry Deedes for the Daily Mail Published: 19:53 EDT, 9 April 2019 | Updated: 20:28 EDT, 9 April 2019 When the cat’s away and all that. With chief moggy Theresa May off scouring Europe with her begging bowl, some of her little critters were scurrying around back home causing plenty of mischief.The starting gun to succeed the PM popped long ago – no doubt you’ve noticed the ‘look at me’ interviews flying around these past weeks – but gathered in Westminster Hall yesterday morning we had our very own miniature leadership debate.The event: a presentation by Onward, a Right-wing think-tank run by two tousle-haired brainiacs barely out of short trousers. The contenders: Health Secretary Matt Hancock, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat (Con, Tonbridge and Malling). The contenders: Health Secretary Matt Hancock. The starting gun to succeed the PM popped long ago – no doubt you’ve noticed the ‘look at me’ interviews flying around these past weeksThey were there to discuss the party’s lack of appeal among young voters. The perfect platform, in other words, for this thrusting trio to present their lofty vision for the party’s future.Has any issue, barring Europe, given Conservative strategists as much bellyache in the past two decades as the dreaded ‘yoof’ vote?Ever since Tony Blair waltzed cockily into Downing Street twanging his guitar, the Tories’ attempts to court this tricky demographic has provoked a buttock-clenching embarrassment. David Cameron petted a husky and made ‘at home’ YouTube videos. Worse, William Hague wore a baseball cap and boasted of regularly glugging down 14 pints a day.The Onward brainiacs announced matters were as hopeless as they had ever been. We were shown damning charts and graphs, one which Brainiac 1 ominously dubbed the ‘bow-tie of doom’. Brainiac 2 kept referring to something called ‘age cohorts’. Their language was typically wonkish but their message unambivalent. If there were an election tomorrow, young ‘uns will vote for the other guy.Tugendhat responded first. He contrasted his own formative years, a time of increased home ownership, the fall of the Berlin Wall and defeat of Communism, with today’s youth who have endured a global financal meltdown, an out-of-reach property market and the disastrous Iraq war. They needed inspiring. With chief moggy Theresa May off scouring Europe with her begging bowl, some of her little critters were scurrying around back home causing plenty of mischiefLively speaker, Tugendhat. The ex-Army officer is one of those rare politicos who passes what I term the pint test. You can probably go for a drink with him without being assaulted with verbless sentences.Penny Mordaunt described the brainiacs’ presentation as a ‘wake-up call’. Ugh! Actually, her speech was peppered with other horrid Americanisms. She repeatedly said people needed to ‘lean in’, a cringey phrase popularised by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg. Her accent also occasionally veered into a mid-Atlantic twang.But there was a nice adage about the age of the ‘political hero’ being over. The country needed ‘servant leaders’, she said. Don’t be surprised to see that slogan brandished on coffee mugs in the next few weeks.Bouncy Hancock was in full hustings mode. People used to vote Tory, he said, when they got their first pay cheque. Now it’s when they get their winter fuel allowance. It is noticeable this was announced not to the audience but to the television cameras at the back of the room. Catchphrases galore followed. He wanted the Conservatives to make a ‘Britain of now not a Britain of 1940’ and to be about ‘hopes, dreams and a sense of a belonging’. He spoke of ‘helping people achieve their potential’. There was talk of ‘fresh starts’, ‘lots of work to do’ etc. If he doesn’t stand for leader, I’ll sweep floors in my local NHS ward for a month.This was an attempt to grasp a particularly thorny issue for the Conservatives, though it was noticeable that most people in attendance were middle-aged men. The arrival of courtly Sir Nicholas Soames (Con, Mid Sussex) did little to lower the median age.Meanwhile, up the road, human hand grenade Mark Francois (Con, Rayleigh) was addressing a meeting of the Eurosceptic think-tank Bruges Group, still advocating a No Deal Brexit while garbling out verses of Tennyson’s Ulysses. Whoever succeeds Mrs May, it is clear a long road lies ahead.
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