Conservative Confusion

4 April 2024

Conservative Confusion

A matter of trust.

By Lynda Goetz

It is not unfair to say that the current Conservative party appears to have no real idea what it stands for. Its supporters, both long-standing and those more recently converted (or at least lending their votes to the party) seem to be deserting in droves, if polls are anything to go by, and the number of MPs stepping down at the next election, for a variety of publicly-stated reasons, is now up to nearly 70. It seems extraordinary that in just a few short years we have gone from Boris Johnson’s majority of 80 to a situation where it looks to be an almost racing certainty that Labour will win with an equally convincing landslide.* No one thing has caused this complete reversal of fortunes. It is a combination of many events, personalities and responses (or perhaps lack of responses) to those events. Speculation as to exactly how it will pan out at the polls towards the end of the year is probably a pointless exercise. But perhaps a brief look at how we got here is not such a waste of time, nor indeed perhaps some questioning as to how dramatically things could still change were there to be, for whatever reason, a change of leadership in either of the two main parties or the Tory contender on the right, Reform UK.

The cost of living is clearly a massive issue for most people. The Tories have always held themselves up as a party of low taxation, with the stated intention of allowing people to keep more of their own money to spend as they see fit. Covid and Brexit, people believe, have both conspired to make this more difficult. Although, contrary to current perceptions, most of us are paying less in direct taxes than we were in 2019, according to Ben Wright in The Daily Telegraph. He explains that, although this is fact, the Tories are reluctant to advertise it, as due to inflation, we are all paying more in indirect taxes than before. As the price of goods and services has risen, so have VAT receipts. Pensioners and businesses are also paying more in tax and as these are normally natural Tory supporters, this is also not something the Chancellor wishes to crow about. The other problem for the Tories here is their frequent claim that lower taxes equals higher growth. That is clearly not the case at the moment and the blame can only be laid at the feet of the Conservative government who have been in power (admittedly in various guises) for the last 14 years.

The bottom line is that the Conservative government is no longer trusted. It is not trusted with the NHS, which is in a worse state than it has ever been and is not working either for patients or for those employed by it; it is not trusted on immigration, which in spite of numerous pledges has been increasing exponentially since the 90s and it is no longer trusted on the economy. Free speech is seriously under threat, again in spite of numerous statements of support and cancel culture is rife in universities and establishments of further education. Our education system, like our health system appears no longer to be ‘the envy of the world’ and our children are trailing in international tables. Our young people appear to be suffering from an epidemic of mental health issues and there is almost no system of support. Our excess deaths from all causes, including cancer amongst the under 40s, has climbed and there is a sense amongst many ordinary people that those who have no love for our culture are getting a better hearing than those who believe in it. Intolerant pro-Palestinian marches are taking over London streets every weekend with seemingly little or no repercussions for those bandying around and spitting out anti-semitic sentiments. We are all being told that we enjoy ‘white privilege’ and that we need to cede the way for those who are non-white or who identify as transgender. In the workplace people are frightened of expressing any views which do not accord with all the diversity training and when they do, they risk losing their jobs. In Scotland with the passing on April Fools’ Day (you couldn’t make it up!) of the new Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, the whole Orwellian nightmare has been given the sanction of law. At the same time, Gen Z appear to be so averse to work that many of them literally ‘can’t be bothered’, so that between them, those with mental health issues and early retirees, we have some 10 million people absent from the work force. All this under a party at Westminster which laid claim to ‘traditional’ values and belief in our country. It is hard not to wonder at the vast gulf between those in the Westminster bubble and the rest of the population.

Recently there has been a great deal of speculation about Tory MPs wanting to replace Rishi Sunak. Respected commentators in The Telegraph like Sheryl Jacobs and Allision Pearson have both independently come up with the suggestion that the Tory party’s only hope is to replace its leader. I frequently concur with both these writers. Ms Jacobs is extremely sharp and Ms Pearson has an very good feel for what ordinary voters are thinking. On this occasion, it is really hard to see that a change of leader at this juncture will lead to anything other than further chaos and confusion. Ms Mordaunt, widely touted as a replacement candidate, does not appear to have a set of principles to which she truly adheres. She seems confused by what a woman is, although a large part of her appeal for her male Tory colleagues clearly lies in the fact that she is most definitely female. Suella Braverman, dispensed with by Mr Sunak as being too strident and right wing and attempting to engage him on the issue of the excessive legal immigration, in which the Conservative party has engaged as a panacea for our poor growth (proven recently to have no foundation in fact), will not ever gain the support of the One-Nation Tories. Most of the 2019 intake appear to be Lib Dem candidates who mistakenly believed they were Conservatives and none of the Red Wall conservative voters are going to support anyone who is not Boris. Boris was unfortunate in his timing, but his regal disregard for all his ‘underlings’, as well as those who voted for him and the inescapable influence of his millennial wife and her circle, put the writing on the wall for his presidential ‘cake-eating’ style of government. For Rishi to bring back Lord Cameron, in spite of his experience as an older statesman, has sealed the impression that the Westminster circle is closed and that no one is looking for fresh talent or refreshed direction. Bring back the old guard!

In the Labour party, Keir Starmer seemed securely ensconced after all the panic over his possible resignation back in the early summer of 2022 over ‘beergate’. He threatened to resign if he was fined, having called for the resignations of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak over ‘partygate’. There was much panic over who might take over the leadership, with a number of candidates, including Lisa Nandy and Rachel Reeves touted as possibilities. Now, once again, Starmer’s leadership is possibly in question with calls for an enquiry over vote-rigging in the selection of MPs, according to The Canary. According to this ‘disruptor’ news source, left wing candidates are being disadvantaged by an online voting system. If this really is the case and an enquiry shows this up before the election, then the Labour party could be shown up to be as disunited as its Tory opposition.  Could this lead to a more left-wing composition to the party and how would that affect the current dissatisfaction with the government?

The other factor which may prove influential between now and the election date is the role played by Reform UK.  This party, formed from the former Brexit party is currently, apparently, on 16% of the vote. Unlike at the last election, where the party agreed to stand down candidates if there were pro-Brexit Conservative MPs standing, the party is saying it will not come to any agreement with the Tories. Although the BBC likes to paint Reform UK as a ‘far-right’ party, this is absolutely refuted by its leader Richard Tice. It has however captured quite a sizeable section of the right -wing Tory voters who feel completely let down by their own party. Should Nigel Farage once again put himself at the head of this party, will it, as Anne Widdecombe (now a party member) considers, become a serious force to be reckoned with? It may depend to a large extent on the quality of the candidates they can muster and at this stage that is unclear.

*In fact, according to a recent YouGov poll, conducted between 7th and 27th March, the Labour party could win with a majority of 154 seats, leaving the Tories with just 155 seats, which would be a worse defeat than under John Major in 1987, when they managed just 165.

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