In the aftermath of the car crash election the Conservative Party has a choice. It can take the opportunity of recreating itself as a conservative party or, as is more likely, it can choose to carry on as usual.
Tories have to ask themselves why they lost. They got most votes but emerged in the public mind as greatly weakened losers. Just as Mrs May let her special advisers take the blame for the badly thought out manifesto, the Tory temptation will be to blame Mrs May for the election defeat. Mrs May vies with Hillary Clinton for the title of ‘Most Appalling Campaigner In Living Memory’, but she cannot take all the blame. This was a humiliation for the entire Conservative Party.
The most likely immediate reaction is that the ever present tensions within Tory ranks will emerge in open civil war. The glee with which George Osborne and Anna Soubry have met the result is as open as it is odious. Nicky Morgan and Lord Heseltine have reacted shamefully with their mean-spirited sniping from the sidelines. Doubtless leadership contenders are already canvassing support behind the scenes, while loudly announcing support for the PM. Self-destructive bloodletting is nothing new for any party, including the Conservatives.
The one bright spot in the Tory darkness is Ruth Davidson, whose Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party increased its Westminster representation from one to 13. She ran an effective campaign. But what many commentators forget is that it was a very different election campaign in Scotland.
Ruth Davidson ran a single issue campaign which had no resonance in England. No matter how much the SNP attempted to bring the discussion back to Brexit, education, economics, or social policy, Ruth Davidson hammered back with ‘No to Indyref2’, and it worked.
Davidson managed to become the voice for the many who are against independence in large part because Scottish Labour was all at sea. Jeremy Corbyn was open to Indyref2, and Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour, was against it, but still in favour of a federal solution. If you wanted to vote against a second referendum and for Scotland remaining firmly in the UK, the Scottish Tories were the only game in town. That is unless you wished to vote for one of the fringe parties such as the Lib Dems.
Ruth Davidson, while a successful campaigner is, like David Cameron, no social conservative. When it emerged that the Tories would have to engage with the Democratic Unionist Party, Ruth Davidson’s immediate reaction was to ask Mrs May for reassurances. Not on what such discussions might mean for the constitutional position following the peace process, not for what it might mean for Brexit; but for reassurances about what it might mean for LBGTQ etc rights. Priorities emerge through actions.
Ruth Davidson is a social democrat, not a social conservative and, despite her opposition to Indyref2, not a constitutional conservative either. A passionate Remainer she very much wants the softest of soft Brexits, probably remaining in the single market if at all possible. Now she has a biddable cohort of brand new untried MPs at Westminster, who will follow her lead rather than that of the Tory whips. Less than a week before negotiations begin this is important.
There is a temptation to look at Scotland for guidance as to how the Tories should rearrange their deck chairs. The great danger the Tories face is that they repeat the follies of the past and go even more social democratic. The argument goes that David Cameron was no conservative yet he won elections for the Conservative Party. This would have all the effectiveness of ordering the Titanic to keep steaming ahead on the same course.
The Tories have never attempted to put forward the many reasoned arguments there are against progressive liberalism. Merely pointing out the evidence of broken lives, fragmented families, pathetic education, welfare dependency and economic misery would have been a good start. Rather, instead of supporting marriage and the family, they have undermined both. Instead of supporting mothers to look after their own children they encourage the State to take over the task. Instead of encouraging entrepreneurs they focus on state intervention and regulation.
Initially, the Tories gradually absorbed many of the Left’s views, then under Cameron they embraced them wholeheartedly. Tory leaders sold their birthright for the mess of pottage that is an appearance on Question Time, a programme that is not so much a robust examination of policies as a sustained sneer against social conservatives.
Realising that the mainstream media will never give actual conservatives a fair crack of the whip, the Tories bowed the knee to the god of ratings. This appeasement strategy by the ‘Nasty Party’ failed utterly; Why should people vote for a pale blue imitation when they could vote for the genuine red article?
Unable to project a true alternative, the Tories are stuck in a time warp unable to catch up with the world around them. They have never tried to make genuine use of the great alternative to the mass media, which helped gain Labour so many votes, social media.
Corbyn, a crumbly old middle class Marxist, as well as coming across on television as a decent bloke as opposed to the stiffness of Theresa May, also had supporters who used social media brilliantly. Can anyone see the present Conservative Party being able to generate the same effective support? Who is going to get excited about the Conservative Party?
It is to be feared that ‘Keep calm and carry on’ will be their mantra. Many held their noses and voted Conservative at the last election. For how many will that be the last time?
(Image: Gareth Milner)