The Conservatives are one of the oldest political parties in the world, dating back to the 1830s. But the inanity, incompetence, narcissism and corruption of the last few years may well have destroyed them as a serious electoral force.
It is ironic that the party’s decline probably began with Margaret Thatcher, their great hero, who belittled the ‘one nation’ strand. This had allowed them scope for complacent self-interest whilst still providing a framework which held them together and kept them in power.
Instead, Thatcher showed greed was good, and cutting corners on the social contract was acceptable if in pursuit of a much more profitable commercial contract. She wanted to shrink the state, but John Major was happy to show that selling it off was much more profitable. Already though, the factions unleashed by Thatcher were beginning to destroy the party from within.
The nasty party turns to the posh boys
Under Labour, big state became big corporate state, since both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown recognised the state couldn’t do it all by itself. Newly elected MP Theresa May was telling the Tories they were the nasty party and had to change, and Michael Howard thought he knew how. He promoted two fresh and thrusting young MPs as the new faces of the Tories: David Cameron and George Osborne. It was to be the turn of the posh boys.
The Liberal Democrats might have made a difference if Nick Clegg hadn’t declared – in a flash of political insanity – that the coalition wouldn’t be a pick ’n’ mix government: the Liberal Democrats would stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories.
This was not so much selling his soul to the devil as making a gift of it, wrapped in tissue paper and tied with a ribbon. Cameron was able to press ahead with new Toryism and at the same time destroy his coalition partners. The Liberal Democrats became what Stalin called ‘useful idiots’. The Tories began to make the trousering of huge sums of public money into official government policy, calling it austerity. Public money was siphoned off and passed to all those mega-corporations apparently set up purely to receive government money.
Party loyalty becomes a weapon of self-destruction
Traditional sectors of the Tory party had been derided as ‘wets’ by Thatcher, and now they became the enemy within. They hung on, but though loyalty has always been claimed as the Tories’ secret weapon, for them it became a weapon of self-destruction. Within a decade, these trustees of 200 years of history were gone. Nobody bothered to wonder what principles the party stood for anymore. Principles were for wimps.
Cameron gave in to the bully boys over the referendum, ignoring the sage words of one of his veteran backbenchers: “David will never learn that the headbangers will never take ‘yes’ for an answer”. So, lazy and over-privileged, having brought down both his party and his country, Cameron walked away. A party set free of principles and now the restraining hand of the EU set about dividing up the spoils.
The dullard May was ushered in. She crouched in No.10 with the reputation of being cautious, but it quickly became clear that she was clueless. Her two sociopathic advisers made all the decisions for her. (In an exchange with the chancellor of the exchequer, one of them warned him: “Remember who put you where you are!”.)
Five prime ministers in six years, all with different ideas
May became a figure of ridicule, in office but not in power. Nobody was running either the party or the government. Then Johnson and, not long after, Covid arrived with its lockdowns, and everyone became preoccupied with a different kind of party.
We covered the Johnson interregnum in our first paragraph. The last five Tory prime ministers in six years, remember, have each in turn represented a dramatic change from the one before. Yet still the party’s faithful cling on to whatever today’s prevailing orthodoxy might be. Increasingly though, it seems Tory members are feeling exasperated at being required to believe with every new PM the opposite of what was preached by their predecessor.
So where does their core vote lie? It’s doubtful the party knows. But the coup de grâce will come following defeat at the next general election. On which hill do they fly their colours then? English nationalism? Free market fundamentalism? Sovereignty of the individual? Those factions have been disputing the prize since Cameron. They are in effect different parties, sheltered within one by the strictures of first past the post. All that has kept them from open warfare has been the necessities of keeping power.