PETER Newey grew up in Warwickshire in a family imbued with Toryism. His grandfather, a Birmingham businessman, was a great supporter of the Chamberlains. It was the dark days of the late 1970s when Britain was at the point of economic paralysis that awoke Newey's political consciousness. My mother died when I was 19 and at that time there were very severe strikes going on in Britain, says Newey. And when she died we couldn't bury her body. Gravediggers were on strike. It was pretty horrendous. Just so horrendous that I thought, This is wrong'. Everybody was on strike. My mother died in hospital. She'd been ill for a couple of years. We think morale is bad now. Back then it was as bad if not worst. The state of the hospitals and the waiting lists were horrendous. The treatment wasn't good. Having just left school and started work as a hairdresser, Newey was beginning to think about politics. I decided then that something had to change. Whatever was going on was not good. If there was a catalyst or any one moment, I suppose it was the fact that they told us we couldn't bury our mother because the gravediggers were on strike. Newey became a member of the local Conservative association just as Margaret Thatcher was beginning the project that would change the face of Britain. I can remember when Margaret Thatcher was elected leader of the party and my father thought we were absolutely sunk as a party from then on. That really was the end as far as he was concerned. He was a traditional old Conservative. Newey believes that one of Thatcher's great achievements was breaking Old Labour. The unions were far too powerful, far too much in control. It's a cliché but it wasn't so obvious at the time. It was about seeing a way forward, which was the magic. We all knew what the problem was. She had the solution. It was after Newey opened his third business in a village in the Meriden constituency that he first began to immerse himself in Tory politics. He approached the local MP, Iain Mills, about a number of local issues relating to his business and found him very helpful.
Newey decided to get involved with Meriden and Copt Heath Conservatives. He stayed long enough to become deputy chairman.
But at the beginning of the 1990s, after Thatcher had successfully broken the unions and introduced her programme of privatisation, it started to go wrong. Newey believed that the Conservative grassroots were sold a theory that the Prime Minister had been in power too long, that things had to change and that she had lost it. I don't believe that was the case at all, now looking back. I think it was the ambition of a few people who thought they could do better, and it didn't happen. And ironically, the people who thought they were destined for greater things never got there. In 1992, he allowed his name to go forward to contest the Ladywood constituency in Birmingham. It was a tough gig. Ladywood was Clare Short's constituency and one of the safest Labour seats in the country.
Newey broke his teeth during that campaign. He realised that the world of politics could get very nasty.
There wasn't enough money in the kitty to put Newey's name or photographs on the posters. All they said was Vote Conservative. Very naively we put them up on lampposts at about 6ft high. Three days later there wasn't one that hadn't been torched. Newey was shocked. But he picked himself up, got hold of some more posters - this time with his name on them - and a white Bedford van with a roof rack. He strapped a ladder to the top and made sure that the next lot of posters were placed at the very top of Birmingham's lampposts. Not only was Newey strapped for cash, he was short of volunteers during the campaign. At the time he was working for the Samaritans. He managed to persuade four of his fellow Samaritans - including a staunch socialist - to help him put up posters. They agreed to do so on the strict condition of anonymity. He didn't win the seat but he did manage to reduce Short's majorntry.
Newey broke his teeth during that campaign. He realised that the world of politics could get very nasty.
There wasn't enough money in the kitty to put Newey's name or photographs on the posters. All they said was Vote Conservative. Very naively we put them up on lampposts at about 6ft high. Three days later there wasn't one that hadn't been torched. Newey was shocked. But he picked himself up, got hold of some more posters - this time with his name on them - and a white Bedford van with a roof rack. He strapped a ladder to the top and made sure that the next lot of posters were placed at the very top of Birmingham's lampposts. Not only was Newey strapped for cash, he was short of volunteers during the campaign. At the time he was working for the Samaritans. He managed to persuade four of his fellow Samaritans - including a staunch socialist - to help him put up posters. They agreed to do so on the strict condition of anonymity. He didn't win the seat but he did manage to reduce Short's majority be a couple of hundred votes.
Newey says he can't argue with the piece of wisdom that holds that political parties don't win elections, Governments lose them. Everybody had great hopes for Gordon Brown. He certainly came in and had a great honeymoon period with the press. And it looked for a little while that it had really rejuvenated a tired Labour Government. But that's clearly not the case. The predictions that so many of us Conservatives made has come true. He's proving to be a disaster as a leader, at the moment. He's going to go the full term, that's quite clear I think he'll go to the last day. And of course, had he decided to go for a snap election, an early election, who knows? Newey believes Brown didn't call the election because he is not a risk taker. Had he done so, Newey believes that the Conservatives would not have won. We would have reduced his majority but we would not have won the election. Newey thinks that if Cameron is to win, he will have to win the media battle. The BBC and certain national publications are going to concentrate heavily on sleaze. They are already starting. That's the clear agenda that's coming forward. I think that's really it. Cameron has always kept his policies close to his chest. I'm constantly being criticized or hearing criticism about him or the party for not coming forward with policies. But history has taught us that we can't deal with this Labour Government in an openhanded manner. Who knows? Newey thinks that Cameron will make a good prime minister. He's very grounded as an individual. He's got passion for the job. He's got this desire to be the prime minister but it's not a personal desire. It's a desire to improve things. I've seen this before in politicians. There are other politicians that come forward that have got a personal desire. Newey believes that a successful leader has to have an element of personal ambition but it is important that their main ambition is for the country. Margaret Thatcher had it in bucket loads. She didn't care if a policy was going to be popular or unpopular. If she truly believed it was going to be the best thing for Great Britain, she would drive ahead with it. You've got to be prepared to be unpopular to follow those policies through. It's the same in local or grassroots politics. You've got to be prepared to be unpopular. If you're not the sort of person that can deal with that, you're sunk. I've been chairman of a large association in the United Kingdom. I was deputy chairman of another large association, also in the UK. You don't do these jobs unless you're prepared to take decisions that are going to be unpopular. One decision that is proving unpopular among many is Gordon Brown's decision not to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Newey believes this is wrong. I feel very strongly about this. The law clearly states that if anyone of the member-states votes No, then it's dead in the hole. After years of struggling with the issue, is the Conservative party in a position to make much political capital out of this issue. There are as many people in the Labour party who feel passionately about the issue of Europe as there are in the Conservative party. The Labour party sat on Europe. In a way, I hope the Conservative does the same, because we tore ourselves apart for years and years over the issue of Europe. Europe has changed. The Europe we joined in the days of Edward Heath has changed dramatically. I think we have less say than we ever had. We can tear ourselves apart over it. But there's now so little we can influence. We've got to live it. I don't believe the country can afford to come out of the European Union. I don't want the country to come out of the European Union. But I do worry about a federal states of Europe. It's perhaps easier for countries that have a younger democracy and are more developing. Certainly for countries like Bulgaria and Estonia and the new entrants, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Newey attended a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference four years ago where he heard a theory about Europe imploding because it got so big. It really made me stop and think, This is a very real possibility'.
This is the second term for Newey as chairman of the Majorca branch of Conservatives Abroad.
Newey first moved to Majorca in 1999. He had been coming on and off for 15 years as his aunt had owned a house here. I loved the island. I always knew I'd live here. But I wasn't sure when. In a round about sort of way, it was a trip to Australia that made me want to emigrate. And from that desire to emigrate, Majorca came to mind. There are 36 branches of Conservatives Abroad throughout the world. The highest concentration is in Spain. Each branch has a different remit. There is no set format. I was lucky enough to talk to the chairman of the Sydney branch at the conference of October of last year, says Newey. I was telling him how we ran our branch and he was sat there with his jaw on his chest. He could not comprehend the job that I do here as chairman in Majorca. And I hadn't given it a great deal of thought I suppose. I just assumed we all worked the same. The logistics are such in Australia that you don't hold functions with 45 or 55 people and make a few hundred Euros each month, which you send off to Central Office.
In Australia, they are vote harvesters. They don't have members. Their job is to infiltrate the press and web sites and get huge numbers living in Australia to vote for the Conservatives in UK elections.
The Majorca branch is 16 years old this year. Over the years, the likes of Denis Thatcher, Jeffrey Archer, Seb Coe, William Hague and, most recently, Ann Widdicombe have addressed the members.
In the early days of the branch, there were close ties with the Partido Popular. Does Newey believe that it's healthy to have a close relationship with the Spanish conservatives? There was a period of time when Conservatives Abroad, under William Hague, were being advised not to align with local conservative political parties. The announcement applied to all branches around the world, according to Newey, and wasn't specific to Spain. William was not keen on us getting too involved. I have trod a very, very careful line. One of our members is Kate Mentink who is the councillor for the foreign residents. She and I work very closely on certain issues. But I tread a very careful path. Kate knows this and other people know this too. I have a personal life and I have a role of representing Conservatives in Majorca. And I try very hard not to mix those roles. I've really gone out of my way to not mix those roles and I think that's very important. I would rather have no association than too close an association for all the right reasons. It's nothing to do with what my own political persuasions are here in Spain. Newey feels that British people living abroad have been disenfranchised by Tony Blair and his reduction of the 25 year ruling. Until Tony Blair became Prime Minister, we had a rule that if you lived abroad for less than 25 years, you had a vote in the United Kingdom. Now the rule is 15 years. He tried very hard to get that as low as 10 years. There are an awful lot of people living abroad that still pay tax. If you're an American citizen and you pay tax, you get a vote for life. It doesn't matter where you live in the world. I feel very strongly that you should have that in the United Kingdom. We're a part of the European Union. The EU as a whole decided that foreign residents would not have a say in the general elections of those countries but they would in the loca