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Death rattles

I didn’t think it would happen quite this quickly but it does appear as if the much-predicted disintegration of the British Conservative Party is now well and truly underway.

It has been brewing for a while. The party is riven with squabbling factions such as traditionalists versus modernisers, pro and anti-EU, liberal versus authoritarian and mercantilist versus free marketeers. No party can long survive, let alone thrive, the eruption of that many running sores. Had they had the benefit of a leader strong enough to unite them (in the way that Tony Blair has managed to stamp his authority on the equally fractious Labour Party) then they may have pulled off a revival-trick but I was not alone in believing that Iain Duncan Smith was not that leader. And so it has proved.

On the face of it, the crisis issue (whether to allow non-married couples to adopt) hardly qualifies as the kind of major rock on which political ships could be expected to flounder. More likely, it has been siezed upon by a posse of the discontented as the means of launching an ‘intifada’.

It is always possible that the Tories will pull off some sort of miracle and survive as a major political party of state but I am doubtful for they are not just batting against an unassailable Blair or their own brittle consensus; they are also the first high-profile victims of the radically changing political fabric of Britain and the increasing disconnect between the public and established politics.

So, I think the end is near for the Tories as we have known them and that leaves New Labour in the role of ‘the establishment’ to be challenged.

But, by who or what? That’s the real question.

8 comments to Death rattles

  • Surely we’re blowing things out of proportion here?

    The Labour Party split when the ‘Gang of Four’ left to form the SDP, and what happened of course was that they disappeared, sucked into the Liberal Party. I expect in 20 years’ time the word ‘Democrat’ will be quietly dropped from the end of the Liberal Party and the digestion will have been complete.

    In terms of brand-recognition, the fight was always going to be about who stayed in to keep control of the already-known ‘Labour’ label, and it will be exactly the same with the ‘Conservative’ label. Just as internationally-famous tennis players turned out not to be bigger than the Wimbledon-Tennis-Championship brand the year they went on strike, so no politician is bigger than the C-word or the L-word.

    Whoever leaves will vanish, and be replaced by whoever has to stamina to sit it out on the more valuable turf.

  • David Carr

    Mark G,

    Comparisons between the Conservative crisis of now and the Labour crisis of the 1980’s may not be accurate in my view.

    Labour had only one plausible direction to go in in order to survive and that is the way they went.

    The Conservatives are faced with the dilemma of having several directions they could go in and, as a result, may not be able to make up their minds about going anywhere.

    They may survive this crisis only to get slaughtered again the next election and then where to they go from there?

  • That 1-direction versus many-directions contrast sounds quite a convincing point, actually. I’ll have to think about that.

    Somewhere else today I was complaining that we should be discussing the Conservatives’ greatest dilemma – how to reconcile the drive towards a smaller state with Tony Blair’s discovery that a lot of South-East-England middle-class voters realise they are net beneficiaries from the Welfare State and are happy with the size of the public sector as it is now.

    Naturally, these suburbanites dress up their liking for not having to pay more for their health care, education etc as they would have to in the US with terms like “community” and “compassion”.

    But if Conservatives could start to talk openly about the self-interest behind Blair’s suburban vote, they might turn out to not be in such a quandry after all. Suppose, for example, working-class voters were told that it’s their cigarette and alcohol taxes that keep middle-class New labour voters’ taxes down?

    What do you think?

  • David Carr

    You are so right about the middle-class ‘welfare professionals’, the people whose wealth and status depend on state activism of some sort.

    We’ve had them for a long time, but they’ve grown prodigiously since 1997. Richard Littlejohn may be a bit visceral for some tastes but he is right about the Jobs Section of the Guardian.

    In truth, I’m not sure there is any easy way to overcome this problem. One possible means is by playing dirty i.e. pandering to them to get elected and turning on them once in power to launch the kind of war that Henry VIII conducted against the entrenched Church interests.

  • Julian Morrison

    If there are tories reading: how about using this as the time to split off that “tory libertarian” faction that threatened to break away earlier this year. Then there would actually be a libertarian party in the UK.

  • Glenn Mattie

    You need only look to Canada to see what can happen when one of the two ‘historic’ parties implode. The results have not been pretty!

  • nordic

    What about the parallels between your Conservative party and our Democratic party?

    I am an independant who has always leaned Democratic (with some libertarian sympathy – any American who reads our Constitution should), but I mainly voted for Republicans this election.

    The Democratic party is pathetic, with its nonexistent foreign policy and lack of new ideas in ther domestic arena. My vote against them was as much because I think the Dems need some time on the sidelines so they can come up with a platform as it was a vote for an aggressive foreign policy and protection of second ammendment rights.

  • David Carr


    I don’t believe that the US Democrats are in quite the state of disarray that the British Tories are.

    Well, not yet at any rate. I think I am right in saying that last night’s results were very bad for them. They were expected to make some inroads and took a pounding instead.

    Still, they have got time and scope to recover IMO