Last week’s Conservative Party conference left the chattering classes with much to twitter about: coughs, falling sets, ‘edgy’ comedians, all the peripheral trivia which excites them so much. Since it ended, the media has pretty much ignored the actual content of the conference; instead the focus has been on speculation concerning failed leadership coups with commentators counting the days until there is a successful putsch.
Now that the dust has settled, the question which really needs to be asked does not concern the mismanagement of the conference, Mrs May’s fitness for leadership or even any possible contenders for her role. The question which should be asked, and the media ignores, is: What is the point of the Conservative Party?
It is symptomatic of the Tories that the stars of the conference show were Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Ruth Davidson: the egotistical careerist, the toff and the liberal, only one of whom is an actual conservative. But having Christian convictions and the mannerisms of an Edwardian gentleman means that Rees-Mogg has little chance of leadership. Worst of all, he is a small ‘c’ conservative who believes in capitalism, which makes him a cuckoo in the nest of today’s Conservative Party.
Theresa May’s lacklustre performance at the conference and in the country generally is a problem, not because it is keeping others out of leadership positions but because she accurately represents the modern Conservative Party. Any party which awards Justine Greening a Cabinet post has little claim to the description conservative. May’s Conservative Party is now timidly aping Labour progressive policies: it has become Labour Lite.
The Labour Party has promised to abolish university tuition fees altogether, and claimed it will utterly transform social housing and that access to the housing market will be made easier. Corbyn has challenged head-on a core conservative principle by confidently asserting that capitalism is undergoing a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ and is wide open for state-led ‘economic restructuring’.
In response, the Conservative Party promised to freeze university tuition fees at £9,250 and announced a £10billion housing plan to expand the Help to Buy loan scheme, coupled with tougher regulation of private landlords.
To imagine that younger voters will not see through this as a feeble attempt to buy their votes cheaply indicates that today’s Conservative Party is both condescending and out of touch. Young people want politicians with clear ideas who generate a sense of hope for a better future – they don’t find that in the Conservative Party.
Labour is a party which has shown remarkable growth in the last two years. Look at Labour, and you see a large and active core group who are certain of what they believe and sure that the momentum is with them. In Labour, youngsters see others just like them who are enthused and eager to get on with implementing their policies. Naturally they are drawn to that enthusiasm.
When they look at the Conservative Party, they see a group which has no clear idea of what it believes in, other than clinging to office. There are no big ideas worth getting behind, no clear principles which can be argued for, no drive to make the country a better place to live in, no enthusiasm for taking the fight to the political opposition. The Conservative Party lacks big ideas. It has the vision of a myopic mole digging itself ever deeper into a hole.
It is a declining party made up of grey careerists calling on an ageing base who feel betrayed and are increasingly reluctant to do the essential groundwork of politics. Will anyone be surprised when at the next election the Conservatives fail to engage with the young in any meaningful way?
It is not just the young people they are vainly trying to contact who are affected; the lack of coherent principle impacts internally. This is a major reason behind the party infighting. There is nothing to unite behind: no enduring principles, no coherent ideology, no defence of tradition in society or family. With no clear motivation other than desperately trying to retain power, it is hardly surprising there are doubts about a failing leader and a struggle for personal position behind her.
The Conservative Party are losing contact with their core support, most of whom voted for Brexit. However, Mrs May, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Scotland’s Ruth Davidson are clearly Remainers at heart. Boris Johnson was a very late convert to the Brexit cause and his reek of opportunism is clear to all.
In their heart of hearts, the Tories were never behind Brexit as a parliamentary party, and are now stuck with having reluctantly to represent a popular desire they do not share. At the June election they sought a popular mandate for a policy in which they clearly did not believe, and the people weren’t fooled.
It is not only the electorate with which the Conservative Party are losing touch. Their core support of loyal workers is not only dwindling in number but increasingly finds itself at odds with the party. A recent ComRes poll of 550 Tory councillors found widespread opposition to the government’s current priorities.
The poll, commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage, showed that 75 per cent of respondents believe schools should promote traditional models of family and marriage. It also indicated that 87 per cent of councillors thought voters wanted the government to concentrate on Brexit and the economy rather than socially progressive causes. Just over half said it is increasingly difficult to be socially conservative in today’s Conservative Party.
Nothing daunted, during her speech at the conference Mrs May celebrated the fact that it was her party which got same-sex marriage ‘on the statute book’. She further alienated her support by adding: ‘So let us never allow the Left to pretend they have a monopoly on compassion’. The implication being that those who remain opposed to same-sex marriage, including many of her core workers, are lacking in compassion. Mrs May has completed the Cameron project: the Conservative Party is now New Labour.
With the only point of the party being self-preservation, the Conservative Party has shown itself to be a party without a point.