One of the main reasons why the centre-right has been in the political ascendancy across the western world over the past decade has been the behaviour of the left. In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader and brought with him a distain for consorting with anyone who wasn’t ideologically pure. Labour only wanted ‘good voters’ and told everyone else to ‘sod off’ (or stronger words to that effect) and vote for the Tories. In 2019, a lot of voters did just that.
The Tories and the British centre-right generally have been able to capitalise on this by doing the opposite. They welcomed voters, whether they were socially conservative or socially liberal; or statist or passionate free marketeers. Over the last ten years, this has resulted in a lot of liberals feeling more and more comfortable around conservatives, who have at least been willing to discuss differences of opinion in a civil and rational manner.
However, this is starting to change. There is a growing Tory intolerance to people straying from the orthodoxy. If this continues, it will undoubtedly contribute to Keir Starmer becoming Prime Minister.
For the last couple of years, the only red line the Tories had was about Brexit happening. Yet the list of necessary ‘true blue’ qualities is beginning to grow. Recently, on a radio show with conservative guests, Carrie Symonds was discussed. Boris Johnson’s partner and the former Conservative party head of communications was described as ‘one of those millennials who thinks she's a Tory but she's not’. This led to a further discussion about what a ‘proper Tory’ is – using a definition that would exclude a large number of the voters who helped the Conservatives win the 2019 general election so decisively.
The whole notion of there being such a thing as a ‘proper Tory’ should be anathema to anyone who wants the Conservative party to continue winning elections. One of the reasons it is very possibly the most successful political entity in the history of western democracy is because it has pursued power over purity. All you needed to be a Tory member for most of the last 100 years was a belief that Great Britain is a great country and a desire to keep the Labour party out of government. Nothing else was really required. This served the party particularly well over a period of time when the left of Labour had gained control over their party and was steering it towards being more and more ideologically driven.
If ideological purity in the form of ‘only proper Tories allowed’ becomes widespread, it has the potential to inflict massive harm on the Conservative Party. Keir Starmer is not Jeremy Corbyn. Whatever criticisms you want to make of the current Labour leader, it is clear that he is absolutely serious about winning the next general election and is willing to take on anyone in his own party that stands in the way of that goal. If Labour starts moving away from ideas of political rectitude towards being a relatively broad church again, while the Tories move to a position of ‘why don’t you sod off and vote for the Labour party’, it doesn’t take a political scientist to tell you where that leads.
In order to win the next election and keep Labour from power, the Conservatives will have to keep a large and uneven electoral coalition together. They won’t have ‘get Brexit done’ or Corbyn’s unpopularity on their side any longer. They will have to figure out some way to keep working-class, Red Wall, former Labour voters on side, while convincing traditional Tory voters in southern suburbs to vote for the party again. If they start gifting Keir Starmer whole chunks of the electorate via notions of what a ‘proper Tory’ is and is not, it won’t be long before he’s in a position to win a majority, with or without Scotland. Labour have a mountain to climb if they want to win the next general election – they don’t need a helping hand from Conservatives.
There is no such thing as a ‘proper Tory’. The party forgets that at its peril.