ALMOST exactly 20 years ago, the then Tory Party chair gave an arresting speech to the Conservative faithful at their annual jamboree in Bournemouth.

Theresa May asked them to understand why “some people” called them the nasty party: “Our base is too narrow and so, ­occasionally, are our sympathies”.

She warmed to that theme: “In recent years, a number of politicians have behaved disgracefully and then compounded their ­offences by trying to evade responsibility.”

There was more: “Some Tories have tried to make political capital by demonising ­minorities instead of showing confidence in all the citizens of our country.”

And yet more. Her party, she said, was “at its worst when it tries to recreate a bygone age. We cannot bring back the past. We can work together to make today and ­tomorrow’s world a better place”.

The National: Theresa May examined why the Tories are known as the 'nasty party'Theresa May examined why the Tories are known as the 'nasty party'

And here you were thinking Mrs May (never a Ms!) was merely the last Tory PM but umpteen. Turns out she was the ­woman with a less cloudy crystal ball than the ­Brahan Seer.

Back in 2002, Iain Duncan Smith was ­making his brief guest appearance in ­Number 10 (though in the light of ­subsequent events, his tenure probably seems impossibly long).

Even Mrs May, whose time at the Home Office could hardly qualify as planet ­cuddly – who could forget those travelling vans ­suggesting migrants shove off? – could ­barely have imagined just how very nasty her most recent successors would become.

When she talked about demonising ­minorities, I doubt she envisioned a time when that thinly disguised racism would morph into policies to export asylum ­seekers to countries whose grasp of human rights was even shakier than those of the current UK administration.

Nor could she have foreseen how her own turbulent spell in the top job would seem an oasis of tranquillity compared with the shameless life of the man she inexplicably made her foreign secretary, thus paving the way for her own subsequent departure.

She knew Johnson to be a scheming, self-serving liar and would very predictably be a useless foreign secretary, yet she brought him back alongside that mini Machiavelli Michael Gove and restored them round the Cabinet table. Maybe she thought her tent would be safer with them “safely” inside. Well, she kens better noo. As for Conservatives being at their worst “trying to create a bygone age”, the whole Brexit shambles was predicated on ­returning to a non-existent golden age where the uplands were forever sunlit, and good old Blighty was in the grip of a blitz spirit where everybody was good and kind and caring and not making a killing on the black market.

The loudest Leavers were men who wrapped themselves in Second World War fantasies even though they weren’t born when that blood-soaked conflict took place. What price a land of hope and ­glory now sunbeams? Which waves are you ­realistically expecting Britannia to rule? Certainly not the English Channel, ­according to your latest ranting.

Thus we seem doomed to live in a ­nasty world which dwarfs anything ­obtained in 2002. Worse still, ­being nasty and xenophobic is no longer the ­prerogative of party outliers and fringe headbangers but practically de rigueur for advancement in contemporary Conservative cabinets. Not least in May’s old stamping ground at the Home Office.

A government seriously intent on ­reforming what it sees as an asylum ­problem would have set up a crack team to dismantle the logjam in delayed ­applications. It would recognise that the way to encourage illegality of access lay in closing off all the safer, legal options. It would create a visa system for much-needed workers rather than only fast-track foreign fat cats.

Most of all it would allow the scales to fall from its eyes regarding the ­colossal ­damage done by Brexit – which has ­sabotaged business and industry, reduced GDP, lost thousands of talented professionals who scurried back to mainland ­Europe when the Brexit writing was on the wall, and made Britain not a global player so much as a global laughing stock.

The former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested last month that Brexit was the stupidest act of any country bar his own putting Trump in the White House.

There is, of course, a connecting thread here. Both disasters were the result of a brand of raw populism which majored in slogans rather than knowledge; ignorance rather than expertise. And connection too, in that both countries seem able to tolerate naked prejudice and anger in a way which used to be alien to public discourse and debate.

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We haven’t, yet, had our January 6 ­moment, but we have had foul-mouthed mobs berating members of parliament who have committed the apparently unpardonable sin of holding a differing viewpoint.

The debate on migration which ­followed the current Home Secretary’s rare ­appearance at the dispatch box was one of the most dispiriting ever heard. Tory backbenchers suggested that people who ­complained about the arrangements for asylum seekers should be put back in a ­dinghy and launched into the channel.

When “mainstream” politicians utter that kind of sentiment, and Home Secretaries talk about “invasions,” it gives tacit permission for the worst kind of verbal hostilities to become commonplace and effectively licenses bad actors to pour poison onto the airwaves and social media.

The other day, Darren Grimes, who ­rejoices in the title of GB “News” ­presenter – my quotations marks – felt able to post the thought that asylum seekers who tried illegal entry shouldn’t be given the “red carpet” treatment. Quite what is red carpet about sleeping on the floor in a communal marquee, or being decanted and dumped in central London remains mysterious.

Mr Grimes has a bit of form. He set up the youth wing of Vote Leave called ­BeLeave, which was used by the former body as a conduit for funding which would have otherwise breached electoral spending rules. The money came from the infamous Canadian company AggregateIQ, which funded many pro-Brexit projects.

His CV includes a stint as digital manager at the right wing think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, that body from which the politically late Liz Truss took some of her zanier notions. He was involved too with Turning Point, a British version of a pro-Trump youth ­organisation in America.

Thus do we glean from whence Mr Grimes comes.

More worryingly, where he is going garners applause from a section of society embold­ened to display openly sickening levels of prejudice that once would have been publicly condemned by government and public alike.

In that same address to her troops in 2002, Mrs May opined that when we got to the stage where people voted for the BNP, then things had gone badly amiss. Now we’re in an unlovely place where the views of the BNP and those of some senior Tories are well nigh interchangeable.

I question why the bulk of the decent populace isn’t up in arms over all of this, not least in Scotland, where these outrages are being perpetrated by a party whom they never vote into office. Perhaps people are just too tired, too hodden doon with the effort of keeping their domestic show on some kind of road, to have energy to spare.

Perhaps getting properly angry, and properly motivated, is a privilege only able to be enjoyed by those whose livelihoods or homes or both are not under threat.

In such circumstances, our elected ­representatives have to be angry and ­impatient on behalf of those who lack the headspace to take to the streets ­themselves. They are there to pursue Scotland’s cause with all due vigour and constitutional ­innovation.

Frankly, I’m weary of verbal foot-stamping. Weary of hand-wringing. “If not now, when” has never had a more insistent ring.