The despair of the Tory moderates

by Stephen Tall on September 30, 2014

A trio of articles today from three Conservative-supporting commentators highlights why the party, despite woeful opposition from Labour, still looks likely to lose (or, at the very least, fail to win) the next election…

Janan Ganesh (FT) argues the Tory right’s certainty, their inability to accept any compromise, makes then unmanageable (and, whisper it, a bit un-British):

What makes the Tories the most consistently unmanageable major party in the western world are not the views of its rebels, which are neither base nor unusual, but the certainty with which they hold them. They believe there is one Truth, which is knowable to humans. They are affronted when their world view is not made real in its entirety by the prime minister, David Cameron. They think of politics as a total war between ideologies with a decisive outcome, not the endless haggle it has always been. For people who like to invoke nationhood, they possess little of what defines the British: doubt.

Alex Massie (Spectator) notes how unattractive the Tory hunger to cut harder and faster is to the very large number of voters on the receiving end:

It is one thing to accept the need for further and faster and deeper cuts in public spending; it is quite another to boast that you’re so much tougher than your rivals. This might, in Westminster parlance, establish your credibility; it also fosters the suspicion that you’re happy to divide the country into camps labelled deserving and undeserving. There is a relish to Tory rhetoric on public spending that is unattractive. It hints at a small-tent conservatism that knows who belongs inside and to hell with anyone who lacks the fortune to be a member.

And Ian Birrell (Guardian) has reached the (for him) depressing conclusion there’s only one way to resolve the perpetual Tory schism between the headbangers and the moderates – an official split:

The failure to learn the lessons of the past by banging on endlessly about benefits, Europe and immigration is astonishing. There needs to be more, not less, modernisation. Instead, the Tories focus fruitlessly on these fearful older voters largely lost to Ukip, an inevitably declining sector of the electorate, while reinforcing an image that drives away the younger, female and ethnic minority voters needed to survive and thrive as a political force. … In the short term, the Tories must decide either to offer an optimistic vision of the future or just pander to the pessimists in a probably doomed bid to win the election. Beyond that, it is hard not to wonder if these divisions need to be resolved with a cathartic full-blown split, as with Labour in the early 1980s – although this time it would be the militant tendency on the flank shearing off.

Part of me feels sorry for Cameron. Like John Major before him, he is trying to manage a party which has no desire to be managed. But Cameron had an alternative: he could have challenged his right-wingers rather than appease them. He chose not to. They sensed weakness and have exploited it to the full.

The result is a Tory party which has little hope of winning back the voters it’s lost since 2010, let alone winning over the voters it failed to attract then. The Tories are further away from power – the real power of a stable Commons majority – than at any time since 2005.

Yet the mood at the conference this week is upbeat. Tories no longer believe in being the natural party of government. They would much rather be right on their own terms no matter what the voters think.