Last week, BBC2 aired a documentary called Young, Bright and on the Right which followed the fortunes and misadventures of two students - one at Oxford and the other at Cambridge - who were determined to 'make it' in Conservative politics.
The reactions to this documentary have largely fallen into two camps. Depending upon your allegiance, it was either a textbook example of left-wing BBC bias or an illuminating expose of what a Conservative under 30 actually looks like.
Unsurprisingly, such polarising analysis misses a larger and far more important point.
Nobody should have been surprised that the Conservative clubs at elite and traditional institutions are coloured by elitism and tradition.
We can be amused and appalled in equal measure at the delusions of grandeur, the white tie dinners, the port and the cigars but if we are to take away anything from the programme it should be a sense of sadness that two state-school educated students, both of whom declared their love for conservatism, were either baffled or seduced into missing the point of conservatism so spectacularly.
At Oxford, we were introduced to a former president of the notorious Oxford University Conservative Association who by his own admission changed everything about himself in an effort to fit it.
As a Cornishman who went to university in Exeter, I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to feel so dramatically out of place that such pretence seems not just advantageous but completely necessary.
The student in question articulated a solid sense of the Tebbit school of “boot strap” conservatism, coming as he did from a state school and a broken home to academic excellence and Oxford University.
He spoke movingly about his desire to better himself and his refusal to let anyone tell him it couldn’t be done.
The goodwill generated by this on-camera honesty evaporated as he explained what he presumably thought to be true, that the only way to get on in the Tory Party or the ‘conservative movement’ is to be fabulously wealthy, immaculately dressed and insufferably upper class.
One couldn’t help but wonder what Lady Thatcher (framed above his bed) would make of this devastatingly inaccurate understanding.
I’ve been living and working in right-of-centre politics for five years and I’ve never met anyone with a collar that high, an accent that clipped or an attitude that hilariously out of date.
Perhaps I’m nowhere near as close to conservative politics as I thought I was.
If the Oxford Tories thrived on life-and-death political battles, allies, enemies, ‘the good of the party’ and the right connections, then our Cambridge counterpart presented a far simpler view of things, though no less inaccurate.
For this plucky undergraduate, it was all much more fun.
He hoped only to be entrusted one day with the responsibility of buying cheese for the meetings and said that his passionate involvement with the Association was “fundamentally a leisure activity”.
And yet he confessed to his middle-class Lib Dem parents that the attraction was all about “pretending to be part of the upper classes for one night a week”.
Both subjects offered word perfect explanations as to why they were conservatives and yet both of them represented the most incredible subversion of that creed.
The Oxford and Cambridge Conservative Associations no more represent the Tory Party than Castro does the Labour Party.
We can all point to the comic extremes of our political bases and seek to extrapolate but I can say with some authority, having served in a previous age on the Tory Party’s 'youth executive' that such characters are the exception and not, thankfully the norm.
I was saddened to watch these two likeable and pleasant individuals break through barriers with their conservative convictions as motivation, only to abandon them so readily when presented with such a glaringly false representation of the party and principles they claimed to love.
For one, it was all about power, privilege, plots and port whilst for the other it was an endearingly naïve desire to be entrusted with the Association’s cheese order and, one suspects, a yearning for friendship.
I hope they both rediscover the convictions that got them that far once they leave the panelled debating chambers and the boating parties behind.