On the face of it the Conservative Party just now is having a terrible time, with the very telegenic Michael Portillo making life an utter misery for the deeply untelegenic Iain Duncan Smith. But something big is happening in the world which could see off the Labour Party for the next little slice of British history, and bring the Conservatives right back into contention.
The voters in Britain infuriate me. I like the people, by and large. Salt of the earth, most of them. But when they get around to voting, they have profoundly different priorities to me, or to anyone with a serious interest in politics.
Basically Britain’s voters would sooner vote for a party which is united in agreeing to do the wrong thing, than a party which is divided about just how enthusiastically it should resist that (or some other) wrong thing, or do any right thing. Division is all. Unity is all. They vote against the former and for the latter, regardless of what is being agreed or disagreed about. I loath and despise this, as I say, but that is how it is.
Well, for the last fifteen years, ever since the Cold War fizzled out, the Big Thing in British politics has been Europe.
Labour is a tiny bit disunited about it. Most Labourites love it that Europe gives them as much socialism as the real world is ever going to give them, in the form of a ocean of capitalism-hobbling regulations and interferences. A few Labourites aren’t satisfied only with that much socialism and would prefer more and on that basis they complain about Europe.
But such bickerings are nothing compared to the giant axe that Europe slammed into the very torso of the Conservative Party. Conservatives have been at each others’ throats about Europe for, as I say, the last decade and a half. It did for Thatcher. It did for Major. It did for the lot of them.
But now, post 9/11, the issue is no longer Europe. The issue is, to put it bluntly: the USA. Well, not the USA as such, merely its policy of choosing actively to prosecute the War Against Terror (i.e. against terrorists) rather than just hoping that terrorism and terrorists will go away. President Bush has decided to hunt them varmints until there ain’t none left, and what’s more to hunt down the no-good preachers who are stirring them all up, and if Europe don’t like it, too bad for Europe. As Bush said – in one of those scary speeches he made soon after 9/11, which sophisticated Europeans ignored as the gaseous emissions of a politician seeking mere poll numbers and re-election, but which Bush himself actually, it is now turning out, meant – either you’re with us or you’re agin’ us. That is now the Big Question.
And it so happens that the Conservatives are united in being with George Bush, less a few freakish europhiliac grumblers, while Labour is catastrophically divided about the War Against Terror (in the form that the Americans are now choosing to fight it), as today’s dramas in the House of Commons have now made very clear.
If it is true, as I found myself saying last week, that this War Against Terror thing is not just going to be an episode, but maybe something more like an era, then to that exact degree the news is now a lot better for the Conservatives.