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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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HomeDemocracy in DecayTories have only themselves to blame for the coming Labour government

Tories have only themselves to blame for the coming Labour government

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IF YOU’RE going to solve a problem, the first thing you need to do is define what caused it. The re-election of Sadiq Khan as London mayor is a case in point. The commonly cited explanations for his success (London is a multi-ethnic city permanently lost to the Conservatives, their candidate was uninspiring) may be correct, up to a point. But it really is much simpler. Much voting in local elections reflects national political views. I know: I spent 2022 trying to persuade people of the uselessness of my local Labour council to be frequently met with ‘yeah, but Boris’.

So Khan’s re-election was no surprise. In 2021, he beat Shaun Bailey in the first ballot by about 5 per cent, when the Conservatives’ national poll lead was also about 5 per cent. Now the Tories are some 20 points behind Labour, and yet Khan beat Hall by 11 points. Khan was there to be beaten; perceived as a failure, especially on crime and transport, and loathed in outer London for the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), a decent candidate and a fair political wind should have been enough to win the London mayoralty for the Tories.

Susan Hall was not inspiring but neither was she a bad candidate. Wes Streeting branded her a racist, which is no better than the mud-slinging one expects from the most over-rated member of the shadow cabinet, but this badge of honour suggests she had some actual conservative views. The process for selecting her was as controlled and inept as one would expect of the apparatchiks that run Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ). From a longlist of applicants, they offered London Tory members a choice of Hall (Harrow councillor and Greater London Assembly member), Daniel Korski (a Cameron policy wonk never elected to anything, who had to withdraw when allegations of groping surfaced – why did CCHQ not spot this beforehand?) and an unknown lawyer from Birmingham who demonstrated how out of his depth he was when first put under a bit of press interrogation. How did Paul Scully, Minister for London, not get on the shortlist? The suspicion is that CCHQ wanted Korski as the candidate and Scully was the biggest threat to his selection; party members would probably have voted for the MP for Sutton and Cheam and so they had to be denied that opportunity.

And that brings us to real culprit for the failure to beat Khan, someone else whom party members weren’t allowed to vote for, Rishi Sunak. These recent local elections – with the loss of 500 Tory council seats – were the inevitable consequence for a Prime Minister who has trashed what credibility the Conservatives had nationally. It was also thus no surprise Andy Street lost the West Midlands mayoral race.

These elections showed why a Labour government after the next general election is a now a racing certainty. The Conservatives simply have not the stomach for the fight. They used to be infamous for their killer instinct, especially when it came leaders. ‘The loyalties which centre upon number one are enormous,’ said Winston Churchill. ‘If he trips, he must be sustained. If he makes mistakes, they must be covered. If he sleeps, he must not be wantonly disturbed. If he is no good, he must be pole-axed.’  And yet the supposed plotters, ready to deliver the knockout blow to Rishi if the local election results were bad, didn’t materialise. Suella Braverman has called for Rishi to change tack yet ruled out his replacement as Prime Minister as not feasible. But it’s not feasible that Rishi will change course and even if he did, he has so little credibility few would believe any changes were genuine.

Conservative MPs imposed Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister without letting party members have a say and thus cannot remove him without acknowledging they screwed up. So they will keep Rishi and choose political death. Of course Sir Keir Starmer is keeping his real agenda hidden lest it frighten the voters, and frightened they should be, as David Starkey has expoundedThe electorate doesn’t have a high opinion of Starmer. Reform may be snapping at the Conservatives’ heels but there’s no reason to believe right now they’ll attract enough working-class voters to prevent a Labour majority. Nor is the increasing threat of a Muslim party weaponising Gaza something Labour has to concern itself with, at least not until after the General Election.

The only glimmer on the political horizon is that voters don’t like Labour administrations. As well as Khan’s less than overwhelming victory, the Conservatives won a council seat in Newcastle last week and also in Wandsworth (Labour-controlled since 2022). It takes the reality of Labour in power for people to turn against them and so one term of a Labour government might well see a resurgence on the right, just as President Biden has done wonders for Donald Trump’s chances of being re-elected. But presently, the public (including many conservatives) just want to punish this Conservative government. Buckle up for a bumpy four or five years ahead.

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Vlod Barchuk
Vlod Barchuk
Vlod Barchuk is a former accountant, former Tory councillor and current chairman of Ealing Central and Acton Conservative Party Association.

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