So, who is to blame for the Conservative party’s supposedly appalling showing in last week’s council elections? The party leaders seem to have concluded that the loss of Birmingham and Southampton councils and more than 400 councillors nationwide is somehow down to the poofs, and their incessant clamouring to be allowed to marry one another. Perhaps the party sources who suggested, the morning after the elections, that out of contrition the government would ‘backtrack’ on the commitment to legalise gay marriage are right; it was this commitment which, through some complex psychological process, possibly rooted in Freud, turned the voters against the government. Their personal financial worries and more general anxieties about the state of the economy were transformed somehow into a revulsion at the thought of homosexuals fondling one another near a font. It was an expression of homophobia possibly exacerbated by repeated exposure to the gloomy prognostications of television weathermen — all of whom are homosexual — which drove millions of voters away from the Tories and into the welcoming embrace of the, er, Labour party.
This apparent concession to the Tory right, who are popularly believed to dislike sodomites, was dressed up as being a realignment of priorities, shedding the stuff which might be a ‘distraction’ from the big issues of the day, i.e. the fact that the country is financially wrecked. These ‘distraction’ issues are largely the metro-liberal positions which the party adopted in order to supposedly convince a sceptical public that it was no longer a ‘toxic’ party, and could be voted for in all good conscience.
I was never terribly convinced about this myself. Hand-wringing platitudinous drivel about global warming, the building of wind-farms, the embracing of multiculturalism and the rolling out of successive rights for gays, transgendered and ‘intersex’ persons is seen as counter-toxic only by Steve Hilton, the Guardian, the BBC and a few score thousand voters in, primarily, north London. The real toxicity of the party — i.e. the toxicity which resulted in voters deserting it in droves last Thursday — is the very one which they have not dispelled, nor apparently have any intention of dispelling: that it is a party led by people who have no idea whatsoever of the travails of ordinary people and feel instead an inherent allegiance to people of their own kind — the sort of people who have annuities, or earn sackloads of cash, or own Buckinghamshire. The commitment to a policy which calls for austerity without economic growth is far more toxic to the electorate than a mildly homophobic disposition (which is, in any case, shared by a large proportion of the population).
So, too, tax cuts for the well-orf. You may argue that the top rate should be slashed back for perfectly legitimate — if, in my view, mistaken — economic or moral reasons. But you cannot argue that it is a policy which commends itself to the electorate. The last opinion poll on the issue showed that only 21 per cent of the electorate approved the cutting of the 50 per cent top rate, and even a slim majority of Conservative voters were opposed to the cut. Neither the government, nor its recidivist backbenchers, really understand how to connect with the public, what angers them and what pleases them.
The caveat to all this is that I am not so sure that the party really did perform particularly badly in last week’s elections — midterms, remember, with a lowish voter turnout and at a time of economic uncertainty and overwhelming gloom. I am not saying that it was a triumph by any means, but it was rather what one expects during the electoral cycle.
In a way the most remarkable statistic is that the Labour party polled only 39 per cent of the vote — way, way, below what the Conservatives were polling in the 2008 midterm council elections. It is closer, by far, to the figure polled by the Conservatives in the ‘super Thursday’ votes of 2004 — from which bastion they went on to lose the next general election having secured only 165 seats and 31.7 per cent of the vote. There seems to be no greater appetite for a Labour party led by Ed Miliband than there was for a Conservative party led by Michael Howard. And this is despite the generally acknowledged suggestion that Ed is doing pretty well at the moment, looks a bit less like Wallace from that annoying animation, is holding his own and scoring points at Prime Minister’s Questions, etc.
Nor did the Liberal Democrats shuffle off their mortal coils much as many had predicted or, in my case, hoped. It is true that their sanctimonious gay copper performed as disastrously as usual in the London mayoral elections (it is strange that they cannot find a charismatic figure to fight for the mayorship; there were votes to be stolen and London is nothing if not a liberal city), but otherwise their losses were less spectacular than merely dispiriting. That clown Lembit Opik used a brief interview on the BBC the morning after the results to demand the resignation of Nick Clegg. But although they lost a few hundred councillors, their percentage vote held up and even increased a little. Every time the Tory right attacks Clegg and the Lib Dems for mediating the effects of Conservative policy, the Lib Dem vote goes up a little. You would think that they would learn.