James Forsyth James Forsyth

Can anyone unite the Tory tribes?

Victory at the next election will go to the party that does a better job of managing its own electoral coalition

One of the reasons that coalition governments are so unusual in Britain is that both main parties are coalitions themselves. The Tories have long been a party of both social conservatives and libertarians, Eurosceptics and Europhiles, buccaneering free traders and economic nationalists. Labour has always brought together Methodists and Marxists, middle-class liberals and working-class trade unionists, hawks and doves. These internal alliances mean the parties mostly avoid the need for an external one. But the Labour and Conservative coalitions are nearing breaking point.

Labour’s problem is that its far left now dominates, making the party unbalanced. The two years since Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership have seen his wing gain ever more control. When Corbyn first became leader, most of the shadow cabinet made no effort to hide their doubts about his agenda. But Corbyn can now impose collective responsibility on it. Several of those who at first refused to serve under him are now trying to worm their way on to the front bench.

Even the party’s various committees, where the organisational skills of the old Labour right used to act as a bulwark against left-wing domination, are now coming under Corbynite control. The leadership can now put together a majority on the National Executive. Momentum-backed candidates romped to victory in the elections for the conference arrangements committee.

Changing the rules to reduce the number of parliamentary nominations that a candidate needs to stand for leader used to be regarded as the test of the Corbynites’ institutional strength. The Corbynites probably do have the votes to pass this change at this month’s conference. But the truth is that it is far less important than before because there are far more Corbynite MPs now than there were two years ago, when he had to rely on the indulgence of Labour MPs, who should have known better, to get on the ballot.

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