Gosh, it’s depressing watching the natural party of government committing slow-motion suicide. It’s depressing even if you’re not, as I am, an instinctive and more or less lifelong Conservative. What it means is that Britain is on the verge of losing its most effective, tried-and-tested prophylactic against the misery of socialism. Sure, there are lots of other parties competing to perform this function: Ukip; the Brexit party; the SDP; For Britain. But will any of them be able to do enough to avert the dread possibility of a regime led by Jeremy Corbyn?
Let me first explain why I know that the Conservatives are doomed. It’s not so much to do with their sabotage of Brexit, appalling though that has been, as it is with what they’re promising to do if and when Theresa May ever goes.
‘We need to get back to explaining our One Nation Tory approach,’ announces Boris Johnson in his Telegraph column, as if this were some cunning wheeze no one had thought of for ages. Except, so too have most of the other leadership contenders including Michael Gove, Amber Rudd and Jeremy Hunt — and for obvious reasons. One Nation Toryism suggests you’re in favour of peace rather than war, unity rather than division, kittens with sparkly ribbons round their necks rather than savage devil dogs with sharp fangs, racist tendencies and rabies.
Boris goes on in his article to define One Nation Toryism as being about ‘the vital symmetry between great public services and a dynamic free market economy’. Yes. This is what Tony Blair called The Third Way; what his heir David Cameron called The Big Society or ‘sharing the proceeds of growth’; and what Boris, were he the more frank entertainer he used to be, would call ‘nihil novi sub sole’.
You might say, as some will: ‘But they’re politicians. Of course they have to come up with this bullshit.’ No, they don’t. And if they carry on this way, it will be fatal. They’ll end up like one of those trendy vicars who strips out the pews, ditches the Cranmer prayer book, replaces the organ with speakers blaring rave music — and then wonders where the congregation has gone.
To understand the problem, I recommend an excellent essay by David Eyles titled ‘The Post-Brexit Tory Doom’. Coming from outside the Westminster bubble — he had proper jobs, first as a quantity surveyor in civil engineering, then as a livestock farmer — Eyles hasn’t been brainwashed by the in-house line that ‘elections are won in the centre ground’. Not any more. As Eyles explains, Brexit has changed everything.
What it has done is to turn a pre-existing fissure into a vast, unbridgeable chasm. This tectonic shift has been building for some time, driven on the one hand by the forces of Fabianism and cultural Marxism, on the other by the Conservatives’ surrender of their core philosophies in favour of ‘pragmatism’ (i.e. drifting leftward to shake off the ‘nasty’ tag, which of course they’ll never lose because the people who dictate the terms are their even more left-wing opponents).
As Eyles notes, Conservatives of all hues have been abandoned. ‘They feel beset by political correctness, uncontrolled immigration, breakdowns in law and order, ordinary people being arrested for little more than “thought crimes” whilst the real criminals go unchecked, and so on.’
These are real frustrations, felt by many Conservative voters — and not a few old-school Labour ones. Yet for many years they have been successfully downplayed by much of our media, taking its lead from the BBC, which casts politicians (from Andrew Bridgen to Nigel Farage) and commentators who speak out on these issues as headbanging, even ‘far right’, extremists.
I mingled with a few thousand of these deplorables at the so-called Brexit Betrayal rally in Parliament Square last Friday. It was a lovely sunny day, and the mood was cheerful and optimistic. But from the conversations I had it was very clear that there is a significant constituency which feels betrayed by the mainstream political class and unrepresented by the current left-liberal identity-politics-driven Westminster consensus.
Very few Conservative MPs seem to have grasped this. Most of them, as Eyles puts it, have simply ‘sat on their hands imagining that they have only to erect a few Big Tents and compare themselves to the horrors of Corbynism in order to garner sufficient votes’. But the rules have changed.
For decades, the distribution of votes in the UK did indeed form a bell curve, which offered the best chance of winning to whichever party could most convincingly lay claim to the ‘middle ground’. But now, as Professor John Curtice and others have argued, that ‘normal’ distribution has been replaced by two distinct curves — one on the left occupied by instinctively statist, politically correct Remain voters; one on the right occupied by Leave voters. The centre ground has disappeared, which would explain the polarisation of — and often vicious recrimination between — the two camps.
The mistake all those One Nation Tories are making is to go chasing the voters on the left-hand curve (despite the fact that this group is already well catered for by everyone from Labour and the Lib Dems to the Greens and the parliamentary Conservative party) and ignoring the fertile territory on the right.
Who will benefit from this vacuum? All Conservative MPs who have been robustly pro-Brexit will, I’m sure, be quite safe. But the others may well be toast — and deservedly so, replaced by candidates from one of the new insurgent parties that actually stand for something. If there weren’t similar Brexit-related vulnerabilities in Labour seats, I’d be much more worried than I am that Corbyn will be a shoo-in at the next general election.