The Conservative party conference in Birmingham this week seemed a remarkably relaxed affair. The European question has been settled. Seldom has victory in the next-election looked more secure. The Labour conference in Liverpool had been a debacle, as the hard left set about picking off the remaining moderates. Diane James has resigned as Ukip leader after 18 days. It’s quite possible that her replacement could transform Ukip into a new working-class party — and then do to Labour in the north of England what the SNP has done to it in Scotland.
One cabinet member put it well: the Tory party, he said, was like a piece of elastic that had been stretched much too far under David Cameron but has now been allowed to revert to a more natural position. Grammar schools, ideas about ‘shaming’ companies who employ foreigners — as if that were something to be ashamed of: such notions were banished during the David Cameron years, but now they’re back. And if voters find this off-putting, what are they going to do? Vote for Jeremy Corbyn?
A party that accused its former-leader of shuttling between panic and complacency is now in danger of doing the same. Take the Chancellor, Philip Hammond. He was remarkably keen to assert his dislike of over-borrowing. ‘Piling up debt for our children and our grandchildren to pay off is not only unsustainable,’ he said. ‘It’s unfair and it’s downright un-Conservative.’ Quite so. So why did he then go on to say he would not observe his predecessor’s target of balancing the books by the end of the current parliament? It is an abdication of fiscal responsibility dressed up as prudence.
The absence of proper opposition is bad for the Conservatives, many of whom are only in politics to keep the socialists out of power.