The Tory party is suffering from an intellectual crisis of confidence. Before 8 June, its collective view was that Jeremy Corbyn was simply too left-wing to be a serious candidate for the prime ministership in modern Britain. He hadn’t learnt the lessons of Labour’s defeats in the 1980s, and while he might excite a noisy 35 per cent of the electorate, thought the Tories, he’d never be able to put together a general election-winning coalition.
Corbyn, however, came closer to victory than any Tory had expected. His Labour party got 40 per cent of the vote and took seats off the Tories. Not one of them had seen it coming and, a month on, they are still trying to come to terms with what happened. They are wondering whether they got the electorate wrong, whether their campaigning approach can work in the modern era and if austerity (even they now use this pejorative word for balancing the books) should just be abandoned. The Tory party is behaving like a balloonist who has lost altitude unexpectedly and is, in panic, prepared to chuck almost anything overboard in an attempt to regain height.
But before fiscal conservatism is jettisoned, they should stop and think. There are better arguments in favour of their policies and principles than the ones they have been making. There is nothing inevitable about a massive shift to the left. Indeed, the manifesto that did them so much damage was itself a move to the left. It seemed more interested in attacking a caricature of the right than in advancing conservatism. A different approach would almost certainly have seen them home. Politically, the Tories should also remember that if they end up offering Diet Corbynism, voters are likely to favour the real thing.
Corbyn’s momentum won’t be halted by technocratic argument or by simply hoping he runs out of road.