If the polls are anywhere close to accurate, the result of the next general election is a foregone conclusion. The Conservatives are tanking and the only imponderable is the scale of the defeat but even that can be narrowed down to somewhere between a catastrophe and total annihilation. For a party that won an 80-seat majority just four years ago, it would be unprecedented.
Experienced staff at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) are said to be jumping ship to be replaced by naive young things who haven’t yet learned to read the writing on the wall as clearly as the 45 or so Tory MPs who have already wisely announced plans to step down at the next election.
Others are hedging bets and have persuaded the Parliamentary Standards Authority to double their redundancy pay, while recent prospective by-election candidates are so ashamed they have taken to distancing themselves from the prime minister and the Tory brand altogether in the hope voters won’t connect them with their own party. It’s a strategy I suppose, albeit an unusual one.
Party finances are said to be in a mess as donations slump, according to The Telegraph.
Things have got so bad that Isaac Levido, the Australian elections strategist credited with helping Boris Johnson to a stunning win in 2019, seems to have thrown in the towel already. He appears to have concluded that having a disastrous defeat on his CV may not be terribly helpful to his future career as a political genius. Levido is said to be devoting a paltry one day a week to the 2024 campaign, dismaying many Tory MPs.
A rabble without a cause
The last time the Conservative Party was semi-united was in 2019, marching up the hill behind Johnson to ‘get Brexit done’, a policy which close to two thirds of the electorate now see as a mistake of historic proportions. This is hardly a good launching pad for 2024. Johnson has now departed of course and writes vapid pieces for The Daily Mail while in the ranks, squabbles have broken out over how to use their new-found Brexit ‘freedom’ as they all stare into the abyss.
It’s as if Brexiters spent decades fixated on freeing us from Brussels but never gave a moment’s thought about what they would do afterwards and now look at each other blankly. Any ideas? No, have you?
Faction ridden, bereft of any workable plans around which a majority might coalesce (a post-Brexit problem identified by Dominic Cummings as early 2015) and devoid of any coherent platform or purpose beyond its own immediate survival, the party has become a rabble without a cause.
Nadine Dorries, Tory MP for mid-Bedfordshire, who has finally resigned 78 days after promising to quit ‘immediately’, confirms it in a vitriolic attack on the prime minister who she accused of lacking any “grand political vision for the people of this country to hold on to”.
Rishi Sunak, she says is “demeaning his office” and running a “zombie parliament where nothing meaningful has happened”. Eviscerating but undeniable.
Thirteen wasted years
Harold Wilson’s winning three-word slogan from the 1964 general election (there’s little new in politics) was “thirteen wasted years” and actually came after what we now look back on as a ‘golden age’ with steadily rising prosperity driven by a near 40% increase in real wages.
By comparison, the last thirteen have been a story of abject failure in every possible way. Living standards have fallen, wages stagnated and inflation is in danger of becoming endemic. It takes natural ineptitude to deliver record taxation combined with third world public services but the Conservatives have somehow contrived to do it, and with surprisingly little effort.
Add in a regular sprinkling of scandals, sleaze, corruption and eye-popping incompetence and a historic defeat is probably the very best they can expect. What would another five years achieve anyway? The party is a spent force.
The Tory party – just a ‘machine for garnering headlines’
A year ago, we were in the middle of a Tory leadership contest and an article by the political commentator John Oxley appeared in the party’s house magazine, The Spectator: The crisis at the heart of the Conservative party:
“Whoever wins in September, the [Tory] party will be stuck. Even in power it remains incapable of generating and delivering credible policies, incapable of using its resources to tackle the challenges ahead. In an uncertain world it struggles to decide what it wants to do, and struggles to implement the few ideas it has. The party has become a machine for garnering headlines and votes but is now starting to stall.”John Oxley, August 2022
That turned out to be a high-point and things have since gone much further downhill, rapidly under Liz Truss and slightly more slowly under her successor.
Sunak a weak leader
Sunak (a smile, a slogan and a platitude!) is too weak to reshuffle inept cabinet ministers (too many to list here, but Suella Braverman is at the top). There is little point in any case because they are all just as hopeless and he doesn’t have anyone better on the back benches.
The government’s strange obsession with the boat people issue and trying to solve it without opening safe routes for asylum seekers or a French processing centre is a metaphor for most other Tory policies.
The PM wants to recover a tiny fraction of the trade lost with the EU by signing tuppeny ha’penny deals with countries on the other side of the planet even as he looks to create more barriers between ourselves and the lucrative market on our doorstep. He is trying to solve growth-hampering labour shortages by continuing to restrict the most convenient local supply, and bring inflation down by increasing the price of food through still-to-be-implemented checks on EU imports.
These are the bizarre rabbit holes of ideology in which the Tory party has imprisoned itself. It’s Alice in Wonderland meets doublethink and all to avoid admitting that Brexit was a mistake, a conclusion already reached by an overwhelming majority in this country.
We know the cabinet is a nest of vipers jockeying for position because that’s what cabinets always are but last week we learned the Home Office, never the happiest place in government, is being compared to the circular firing squad scene in Reservoir Dogs. Senior figures in Whitehall are questioning whether its still a functioning department at all under Braverman, who is at loggerheads with immigration minister Robert Jenrick over the endless stream of bad news stories.
The two of them are engaged in a stand-off with each other and also with mandarins and officials. There is apparently a lot of swearing involved, reminding us of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It, but this time for real.
It’s government as farce.
Another leap into the unknown
The latest insanity gripping the Tories can be seen in calls for the UK to quit the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Fresh from one giant leap into the unknown with the government still wrestling with the aftermath, senior figures are now demanding another one.
Nick Timothy, former chief adviser to Theresa May, celebrated his appointment as prospective candidate for Matt Hancock’s constituency in West Suffolk, by penning a provocative article in The Telegraph: Britain’s migration policy has failed – and there is only one way to fix it.
Quitting the ECHR is “perfectly possible” says the man who, along with Theresa May and her other adviser Fiona Hill, took the decision to leave the EU single market, and also wrote the Tories disastrous 2017 election manifesto.
Former justice secretary David Gauke, writing in The New Statesman, notes the argument has a familiar feel. Namely, that the right always think sovereignty lies with the British people alone, unrestrained by petty-fogging international law while practical problems are “dismissed as inconsequential and the protestations of an out-of-touch elite. Dismissed, that is, until reality bites”.
Familiar stuff indeed. Some people never learn do they?
In the trenches
Meanwhile, there are of course still plenty of Brexit supporters down in the trenches battling reality either on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, or in the pages of The Telegraph and The Daily Mail. Everyone will have their own special list. Mine includes John Longworth, Lords Moylan and Cruddas, David Campbell-Bannerman, Allister Heath, Liam Halligan, Julian Jessop, Robert Kimbell, Andrew Neil and the ever-deluded Daniel (Lord) Hannan.
Another is Matthew Lynn, a Brexiter who in August 2016 warned within a year Britain would be worrying that a “Brexit boom has gotten out of control” now tells us the only way to avoid national bankruptcy is to “deregulate aggressively” and “slash tariffs”.
Which brings me to a fascinating and telling exchange on Twitter between Mujtaba Rahman a former Treasury and EU official and Shanker Singham, an adviser to Johnson and Lord David Frost during the withdrawal trade negotiations and often described as the ‘Brexiteers’ brain’, possibly the first ever oxymoron made flesh.
A good question?
Towards the end of the thread, Rahman says “The Govt has had 7 years to put this program into effect. So why hasn’t it done so? To which Singham replies “Now there is a good question.”
A good question? Quite.
The exchange was sparked by Raman’s incredulous reaction to Lord Hannan’s Telegraph article proclaiming Britain to be a “poor nation” with average living standards lower than Mississippi. Slovenia and Poland are soon to overtake us in the wealth stakes apparently. The countries are EU member states, as you might have noticed. Hannan forgot to add that Ireland’s GDP per capita is now twice that of the UK and high-tax, high-regulation France has recently outstripped Britain with the number of dollar millionaires resident.
Never guilty of under-selling himself, Singham claims to be “one of the world’s leading international trade experts” as well as the author of “the leading academic textbook on the subject of trade, competition and regulatory frameworks”. Note the use of the definite article, the leading textbook, as if there aren’t any others worth reading.
He is the policy lead for the trader support service dealing with the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol and clearly a man with the closest possible connections in the heart of the British government but claims to be unaware of the reasons why the ‘opportunities of Brexit’ haven’t been seized. It’s hard to know what to make of it. Is he afraid to ask?
After seven years of argument, division, dislocation and millions of wasted civil service man-hours this was surely a bit of a limp response to the burning question of our time. Why hasn’t the government ‘unburdened’ Britain’s exporters by deregulating?
I think it must be blindingly obvious. The advantages of NOT exploiting the opportunities far outweigh any conceivable advantages of doing so.
Sunak it appears, is also engaged in a final struggle with reality, a battle like the 2024 general election, that he is bound to lose, and lose badly.