The Tory Party is decaying
Think of a grand old building with marvellous architecture, an impressive façade and the aura of historicity that emanates from a structure that has stood majestically for centuries. Walk through the door and you discover it is a husk. Inside the roof is leaking, the ceilings caving in and the walls crumbling. The rooms are empty but for remnants of long forgotten past when the building was in its heyday. Its foundations are sinking, the pillars weakening and the wood rotting. Some people are beginning to whisper that it might just be better if the whole thing was just demolished. Now think of the Tory Party.
Do I hear objections to this suggestive analogy? They are a party of government! You may say. On the surface, of course, things don’t appear to be too bad. They are indeed a party of government presiding over a reforming coalition in a time of national crisis. It has been reported that the party will announce an increase in the membership numbers at their conference. They are currently neck and neck with Labour in the polls and are very much in the fight to remain in power. Surveys have suggested that “generation Y” is leaning to the right, away from socialistic thinking and towards libertarian, individualistic and conservative values which should mean that there is a great untapped potential groundswell of Tory voters out there amongst the younger generation. The future is bright, the future is Tory?
I invite you to walk through the door and see the decay setting in behind the façade. The Tories used to be the natural party of government but have not won an election outright for 22 years. Allow me to repeat, the Tory Party have not won an outright majority in 22 years; think about the significance of that fact. They limped back into power after thirteen years only as part of a coalition with a party of social democrats, despite the fact that Gordon Brown was one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers of all time, despite the increasing unpopularity of the Labour Party that left the treasury coffers empty, and despite the government having involved Britain in two simultaneous wars that were unpopular, expensive and fruitless. Even then the Tory party could not win a majority… for any sceptical Tory willing to face the truth, the writing is on the wall.
It has been four years. The economy is growing faster than any other in the western world. Much of the population connect the deep cuts to the mistakes made by the previous government and the global crisis. The Labour party have a dud leader that the public think is a ‘geek’ and not worthy of being PM. And still, the Tory Party have no lead in the polls. They cannot and will not win the next election and form a majority government. This is the stark truth all members and supporters should face up to now. There will be a continuation of the coalition, a Lib-Lab coalition or a Labour government, but anyone who attempts to do the maths will come to the inescapable conclusion that there will not be a Tory government.
Does the Tory Party still really exist as anything other than a decrepit relic? The dwindling members and the inability to replace an elderly loyalist congregation with fresh blood puts the party in the same perilous situation as the Church of England. Generation Y may have swung to the right but they have not suddenly become enraptured by the Tories; polls consistently put support for the Conservative Party at around 10%, which is utterly pitiful. The fact is that the reputation of the party is in tatters and their “brand” completely toxic, perhaps irrevocably. In Scotland and huge swathes of northern England the party is dead and people would rather flambé their own grandparents then vote for them. This hatred is passed on through the generations to ensure the party is crippled as their supporters die off, never to be replaced. The divisiveness of Margaret Thatcher, the perceived racism and homophobia of their past, Labour’s monopoly on the ethnic vote and the decades long critical onslaught from the left wing arts have brought the Conservative Party to its knees.
In both cases attempts to modernise, moderate and make concessions have lost these struggling institutions a lot of respect but failed to revive them. The modernisation project of the Cameroonians and the parties conversion to Blairism has failed to entice liberals and centrist voters as was intended; instead it has led to membership halving since 2005. Little wonder; if the Tory Party stands for conserving a bloated state, high taxes, liberal criminal justice, rotten comprehensive schools, EU membership, unrestrained mass immigration and a liberal interventionist foreign policy. While at the same time actively destroying the armed forces and going on a money printing and borrowing spree, then why would anyone vote for them? People who like these things already have two parties to ally with and so all that is achieved is the alienation of friends and the strengthening of enemies.
The recent good economic news will not save them. Their self lauded economic plan has been to implement many of the proposals of Alistair Darling, it is the continuation of New Labour by other means. Many of those who abandoned them can see that they have increased the national debt, inflated the housing market, maintained a huge budget deficit, worshipped at the altar of quantitative easing and passed any eye watering bill to future generations. Their economic plan has been little different from Alistair Darling’s proposals. Subscription income is now lower than Ukip’s, the right-wing insurgency that it used to dismiss with a sneer and a chuckle. The party does not like to publish up-to-date membership figures because it exposes weakness. So many loyalists and activists have quit in disgust at David Cameron’s reign as leader that in many seats there will be no feet on the ground to fight in 2015; this is the harsh reality.
The upcoming announcement of increased membership numbers is all smoke and mirrors. It is an exercise in PR and image management. If the membership numbers appear more impressive people will be more willing to join and the party will seem stronger and healthier than it actually is. The party has paid thousands of pounds to gain more Facebook followers for David Cameron and the official Conservative page, hence why both suddenly seem to be admired from far and wide as Mexico and Thailand. The Tories are adept at using their financial advantage to inflate themselves, while Labour rely on committed activists and ideological allies; the Tories have over 250 thousand Facebook ‘likes’ while Labour only have around 183 thousand, but how many of these dubious Facebook Tories will count as a vote? How many will be on the doorstep? Phoney Facebook ‘likes’ may seem trivial but a similar pretence is being used to make membership numbers seem less embarrassing.
They were recently reported to have fallen to 134,000 but the new figure being bandied around is closer to 200,000. How have they come to this figure? By including Conservative Future members (£5 fee) and the Conservative “friends” (£1 fee). But how many of these so-called “friends” are simply people who wanted to join the mailing list? This is hardly a great commitment and the list of ‘friends’ is bound to be chock full of journalists, politicians from rival parties and undecided swing voters who just wanted to see the e-mails the Conservatives are sending. These are not committed Tory members that will deliver definite votes, never mind actively promote them on the ground. Conservative Future members too are hardly reliable members, given how unreliable young people are in terms of voting, changing their political spots and losing interest; only a small proportion will become full paid up members, even less of these will actively rally support. The sudden upsurge in membership is an illusion.
The Tory Party is a corpse; a zombie animated by the grubby money of a select few filthy rich donors. Without the money of dodgy millionaires it would have collapsed in on itself long ago, but for now it is able to prop itself up by greasily ingratiating itself with oligarchs, hedge fund firms and banksters. PR and media dislike of Ed Miliband managed to smooth over Tory failure in the May elections, but remember when they came a distant fifth behind Labour, the Lib Dems and the Respect Party in Rotherham? These are the signs of things to come in such regions. The party now has no local activists in so many areas it is reduced to shipping in electioneering teams from across the country just to put down the Ukip threat in by-elections. The situation is desperate, and it does not seem to be dawning on Tory loyalists or their press pack.
I recently paid a visit to the Shipley Conservative club for a meeting of the Freedom Association and found the old place to be a tantalisingly apt metaphor for the Conservative Party. Shipley Old Hall is a listed building, protected from demolition like the party that inhabits it, with typically ornate and impressive 19th century architecture that pleases the eye on first impression. It has been a Conservative club since 1947 and the aged wooden sign above the door and the interior decor suggests little has been changed since then.
Entering the club was like going back in time; the ivory and burgundy wallpaper that was peeling off in the dusty corners seemed to have been in place since the 70’s. The colour scheme was a hideously dated mix of cream, burgundy, dark green and beige that gave one the same feeling one gets when visiting grand parents. You know, their house smells a bit funny, the decor is out of fashion and TV is dated. Much like at a grand parents home the wall is adorned with fading pictures of past glories and memories. Rather than pictures from youth and of the grand kids there was pictures of Thatcher, Churchill and Adam Smith and in pride of place is a photo of Queen Elizabeth II in a cheap frame; I saw none of any recent leaders and, astonishingly when you think about it, none of the current Conservative Prime Minister.
I arrived in the function room to find a very small gathering of people present to hear Philip Davies MP speak; only two people were below the age of 30 and everyone else was 40 and above. I was, again, immediately reminded of the small groups of devoted worshippers in the church on a Sunday morning. Loyal, committed… but few. Their fashion sense was suitably stiff and unfashinable. Of these few only half were even Tory members, the other half were Ukippers and this split in the room exemplified the split in the right that may be the final nail in the coffin of the old party. The Tory members had sympathies with the Ukip members, but with a clear sense of bitterness and frustration beneath the surface; they saw them as misguided strays who had to come back to strengthen their ranks eventually. The kippers did not consider themselves to be self-exiled Tories bound to return; and this strengthening identity may be what prevents reconciliation, or the mass return of the flock to the blue side. There two factions of the right shared much common ground; a desire to secede from the European Union, a fear of a Labour government post 2015 and, above all else, a deep seeded dislike for David Cameron and everything he stands for. This feeling was as strong amongst the Tory members as it was with the kippers.
I spoke with the two young attendees, one who wore a blazer and a pocket watch (no, really), both were undeniably strange. It made me think that if only weirdos like this attend such events, am I a weirdo myself!? (My wife would later confirm this to be the case). They were perfect reminders of just how unfashionable and odd it is to be a young political activist, especially for the Tories, and it such a thing is so far from normal now, what hope does the party have of ever picking itself back up? Even this young pair of caricature oddballs were ready to abandon ship and had recently signed up for purple side. A life long Tory in his forties kept expressing his frustration at people’s failure to understand that the Conservatives are not their leader, as if Cameron were just a temporary blip and normal service would soon resume. This sentiment was seconded by Philip Davies who urged his audience to ride the Cameroonian storm; leading us to believe that a real conservative party was on its way as soon as the modernisers were swept away. I have little faith myself.
This is not a blip. Thatcher was the last leader who had the courage of her convictions but she polarised opinion; despite her party’s adulation for her she began the toxification of the brand. John Major was a Cameronesque moderate with few convictions; he ran a party based on PR and spin, a model that survives to this day. Following in his footsteps are a procession of useless leaders and still born potential PM’s. The New Labour revolution struck at the knee caps of the Tories and then kicked them when they were down, what followed was nothing short of an abject surrender from which they will never recover. David Cameron is not an aberration, his legacy will be ably carried forward by any of his potential replacements, be it George, Theresa or Boris.
A man in his sixties spoke with me, he was terribly unhappy with the coalition and was praying for a majority Tory government so they could ‘get rid of the liberals’ and ‘have a proper conservative government’. I didn’t have the heart to break it to him that there was no way that was ever going to happen, not only because the majority is unobtainable but because the Cameroonian Tory Party isn’t conservative, isn’t interested in what he thinks and dislikes the beliefs he cherishes. I found it sad that they seemed to desperately want to believe that a Tory resurgence was possible and that a post-Cameron Tory Party would run the country alone, welcome them all back with open arms and listen to their concerns and rediscover the conservatism they still believe in.
It is not going to happen, these people are sitting by the bed of a party in intensive care. As I finished my pint of bitter, and looked back upon the last few old men still at the bar in the middle of an inebriated discussion, I wondered if it might be better to just pull the plug and let the patient die. Only then could the right in this country be reunited, and be represented by a party that upholds and champions their principles that could actually have the potential to a force to be reckoned with in British politics for the long term.