Voices: I went undercover on ConservativeHome – this is what happened

It was probably nothing more than idle curiosity and the desire to know what the enemy is thinking that drew me to the ConservativeHome website. But once I was there, the imperative to stay silent while wading through the messageboards turned out to be a challenge too far.

So, with a mischievous grin on my face, I adopted the persona of a splenetic hard-right lunatic and set out to amuse myself.

An early stab at making a contribution to the nation’s great debate about education gave me a chance to test the waters: “I don’t think we need to spend too lavishly on education,” I suggested. “Education only makes people more argumentative and gives them a false idea of what life has to offer.” Isn’t that a bit obvious? I asked myself. We don’t want to give the game away too early. But I needn’t have worried.

“It is not that education makes voters more left-wing,” one respondent suggested. “It’s that more left-wing people are more likely to go to uni.” Is that right? I’d never thought of that: are all those apple-cheeked 18-year-olds left-wing?

Other correspondents were more supportive: “Perhaps there’s something in what you say,” suggested one reader, helpfully. “By spending money on education, Conservatives are ultimately financing Labour voters, and why would they do that?” And he concluded with a reassuring “good point, well made”.

There was nothing left-wing about the responses I got when the subject of tax havens came up. Speaking on behalf of those with “a few quid to stash away somewhere safe from the prying eyes of the authorities”, I offered up a prayer of thanks that “Boris got us out of the European Union before they got their hands on the Cayman Islands”. When one response rebuked me because my alleged “greed and selfishness outweigh [my] patriotism and duty to society”, others leapt to my defence.

“Rubbish,” exclaimed one of my new companions, “everyone has the right to do with their money what they wish”, adding that attacking greed and selfishness was “virtually socialism, that people’s money is not theirs and it is the state’s by right”.

By now, I was coming to see that these Conservatives enjoy a good ruck. Or maybe they just don’t like each other. Either way, I thought it was time to pay tribute to the Daily Mail for “their insightful story on the Budget”, announced a fortnight before, headed “At last! A true Tory budget”. And I added: “Makes you proud to be a Conservative.”

A tremendous fight kicked off about Kwasi Kwarteng’s now-aborted confection, with one strident contributor announcing that “it was the right Budget. The deep state and liberal institutions have responded in a way that has even surprised me.” Another took issue with him: “Repeating poppycock does not validate it.” A touch brutal, I thought. But this is what they’re like.

Time for something we can all agree on, I thought. “Reassure me,” I asked my new pals, “are we still selling off Channel 4?” Once again, opinion was divided. “I hope so,” replied one enthusiast, adding: “I also hope that the BBC licence review results in a subscription service.”

Others were less sanguine. “I doubt it,” one replied. “Hunt needs all the wet liberal lefty support for his new socialist economic policies he can get,” adding: “The BBC can rest assured that their expenses-paid soy lattes [sic] will continue.” Biting stuff, if a bit off-topic.

By now it was clearly time to look to the future and extend a welcome to our new prime minister: “I have to admit I didn’t really warm to Mr Sunak,” I explained, “until I learned about the very astute way he’d secretly diverted public money meant for deprived communities to the benefit of the deserving folk of Tunbridge Wells.”

Happily, agreement was immediate and fulsome: “Taxpayers in Tunbridge Wells are entitled to expect their taxes are spent where they live,” replied one forthright soul, adding, “and not in Labour’s ‘deprived’ client states across the North and Midlands.” Crikey! Whatever happened to our mates in the red wall?

But there was more to come. “It should be northerners and midlanders that pay for their deprived areas, not people in the South East.” This was too rich a brew for one brave dissident: “But didn’t they vote Tory based upon the promise of levelling up?” Once again, however, the response was unambiguous: “How exactly was/is the government going to ‘level up’ poorly educated people that have failed at life?”

Suspecting I might be one of the latter, I sensed it was time to find some common ground. We can all agree that “leaving the EU has cost this country £200bn or 4 per cent of GDP”, I suggested – a touch provocatively – but we’d all be better off “keeping certain facts to ourselves”, and I added that “letting the cat out of the bag at a time like this can only undermine the whole thrust of government policy”.

Sadly, this thoughtful advice seemed only to inflame the situation, and suddenly everybody had an opinion. “This is frankly outrageous,” replied one writer supportively, while another revealed “we will know in 20 years or so whether Brexit was beneficial or not”. I thought we weren’t supposed to admit that? Oh well.

Meanwhile, other minds were not for turning: one respondent berated “the manner in which Leave voters have been treated by the ruling class” and added “if ‘rejoining’ ever happens, I predict decades of bitterness, division, political instability and civil unrest; and possibly even terrorist violence or civil war”. It’s so confusing: when people say “ruling class,” the person who springs to mind is Jacob Rees-Mogg. Whatever has he done to Leave voters to be spoken of like this?

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But there were further hypotheticals to be considered: rejoining the EU, according to one level-headed writer, would leave people convinced that “their democratic rights had been taken away by the ruling classes, and [that] they were living under the jackboot of a hostile foreign power”. And they added: “In the end, it’s irrelevant whether Brexit is or isn’t a success. We’ve left, and only a madman would take us back.”

Bitterness, division, political instability? Nobody would want that. I sensed it might be time to make an exit. When a sharp-eyed writer suggested that, in their view, there were people on this website who might not be all that they seem, I had to agree: “If you can’t take someone’s words at face value,” I enquired, “what is the world coming to?”

But it was one mischief too many for the tolerant folk at ConservativeHome, and I found myself blocked, with half my posts taken down. Why only half, I have no idea, but the result is quite an array of furious discussions on the site, half with no obvious trigger. Reader, that trigger was me, and great fun it was too.

As for being rumbled, I wrote to the site to complain (“as a red-blooded Conservative”) about the pervasiveness of “cancel culture”, of which I was now apparently an innocent victim. They didn’t reply. But I’ll be back.

Peter Smith writes for bardology.org, a not-for-profit website devoted to William Shakespeare