James Forsyth

The existential threat facing the Tory party

The existential threat facing the Tory party
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As James Kirkup says, some Tories are beginning to wonder whether it might be better for them to lose the next election. But defeat at the next election could see the Tories locked out of power for a generation.

The local elections and the opinion polls suggest that the most likely result of the next election is not a Labour majority, but some kind of anti-Tory majority. But, as I say in the Times today, the Tories have more to fear from this kind of governing arrangement than an outright Labour victory. Why? Because it is more likely to lead to electoral reform.

The reason electoral reform has never happened is that the first-past-the-post system tends to create majority governments, which suits both Labour and the Tories when they are doing well. So, once they have got into power they lose interest in reform. Even a Labour leader like Blair, who was sympathetic towards the idea of a ‘progressive alliance’, wasn’t going to change the Westminster voting system that delivered him a 179-seat majority. But a Labour party that had failed to get 326 seats, and hadn’t garnered a majority in close to two decades, would be far more open to electoral reform. And this would be the price demanded by the Lib Dems for their support in a hung parliament.

If the Lib Dems’ preferred system of the single transferable vote (STV) were introduced, it would be devastating for the Tories. The Electoral Reform Society calculates that STV would have meant the Tories winning a majority only twice in the postwar era. Margaret Thatcher would never have been able to govern on her own and the last election would have seen the Tories 18 shy of a majority. Tactical voting, which works against the Tories, would be hardwired into the system. It is an existential threat.

A Starmer-led coalition could place a cherry on top of this anti-Tory sundae by lowering the voting age from 18 to 16. It is already in place for the devolved Scottish and Welsh elections. School-aged teenagers would make up around 3.5 per cent of the turnout in UK elections, the vast majority of which would go to left-wing parties.

The danger for the Tories is that once these change are introduced, they won’t be reversed. So, defeat at the next election could see the political playing field permanently tilted against them.