The Tories and democracy are in crisis – but can Tory Britain be defeated?

Never have we lived in such an age of political challenges in which the leaders on offer are so inadequate and incapable – or even worse, deceivers, serial liars and demagogues. Boris Johnson brought this type of politics to the centre of British life, and despite now resigning as PM and MP due to his continual lies and refusal to take any responsibility, still shows no sign of any self-awareness and contrition.

If the Boris Johnson circus were just about one person, we could all breathe more easily, relieved that he is passing out the exit door for now. But there is a wider context to all of this. Specifically, the contemporary state of the Conservative Party – what it stands for and how it does politics – which sits within a landscape of degenerated politics, leadership and democracy across the Western world from which no country or political tradition is immune.

The Tory Party are suffering from two coalescing hangovers: the after effects and mirage of Thatcherism and the fantasyland of Brexit. Both have become addictions and chimeras for a certain kind of Tory and their continued pursuit of a purist, idealised world which can never be achieved. This hopeless quest inevitably results in a permanent state of dissatisfaction and revengeful hunt for betrayal and traitors.

Thatcherism is now presented as an all-conquering omnipotent political project which overcame everything it faced, and hence leads to offering simple lessons which should be followed in the present. The fact that no such version of Thatcherism ever existed, and that its record in government was incredibly patchy even on its own terms, only makes the fantasy version more alluring.

The same is true of Brexit. The right-wing rachet effect advances an increasingly pure hard Brexit by the true believers and is a world which cannot be reached in the 21st century. It is a delusional mindset filled with contradictions – prizing ‘a global Britain’ making new alliances and partnerships, while invoking a splendid isolation of tearing up treaties and breaking international law. If this recalls any world connected to reality it is the world of a mythical British Empire at its peak in the mid-19th century able to do what it liked via ‘gunboat diplomacy’. But even that version of Britannia only existed for a short time and was constrained by the rise of American and German industrial might and competing European imperialisms.

The nature of British Conservatism has long shown itself adaptable, capable of reinventing itself and moving with the grain of the times to survive and prosper. Hence a political force, which as Toryism struggled against Liberal ascendancy in the 19th century, found itself more popular and successful in the 20th century age of mass democracy when its main competitor was the Labour Party.

Conservatism historically stood for a certain way of looking at society. Preservation, a respect for tradition and authority, and a defence of privilege, inequality and social injustice. All of this was combined with an appeal to patriotism, xenophobia and Great British Powerism both in the age of Empire and its aftermath.

The Strange Death of Tory Britain

Yet in the past half century the British Conservative Party has morphed into a different beast. This has been not just aided by Thatcherism but by its long after-effect, buoyed up by the obsession of Tory believers and the Tory press, and the failure of right-wing opinion to come up with a plausible post-Thatcherite politics.

Hence Ben Riley-Smith of the Daily Telegraph could say at the weekend that ‘the Conservative Party is not an ideological party. It is a power party.’ This indeed was how things used to be in Tory-land and how a host of Tory true blues still interpret themselves. But that is not the case now. The Tories have in the last fifty years caught the ideological bug and been captured by a dogma. But at the same time the party is still partly motivated by the desire to be in power, to be the government and to see themselves in office as the natural state of affairs in the way that Labour never have.

This shift has led to a fundamental divide and tension in Toryism which has added to its cognitive dissonance about the state of the party and country. The Tory Party has increasingly become a narrow dogmatic group of ideologues representing the futile pursuit of the elixir of a low-tax, minimal regulation, small state Britain. But at the same time ‘the power nexus’ still beats powerfully in sections of the party. Toryism in this version is about power, keeping out Labour and representing their self-preservation society for its elites and forces which sustain it.

In the present and immediate future, the ideological pursuit of an unattainable Britain is likely to win out as the party has to deal with its own failings in office. This has similarities with previous long periods of Conservative dominance in government and the political tide turning against them. These include 1931-45, 1951-64 and 1979-97, and which 2010-24 can be seen as fitting into.

All three of the eras past, in 1945, 1964, and 1997, saw the political and intellectual climate turn against the Tories, and a head of steam build around centre-left and progressive ideas that found expression in a Labour Party representing the forces of change. Each of these periods of Tory decay and decline, where discipline and commitment to ‘the power nexus’ of Toryism was lost, were well-telegraphed, with the expectation that a long period of Tory opposition and Labour in office would follow.

Yet in two of these – post-1945 and post-1964 – the Tories were back in office after a mere six years. In only one, the post-1997 era, were the Tories kept out of office for a concerted period of thirteen years and three successive election defeats. 

Who is to say that any Tory defeat in 2024 might only involve a short exclusion from government, before that hunger for power reasserts itself and they drive Labour from office? The Tories have been written off before, regrouped and renewed themselves, dusting themselves off to be a serious challenger to Labour and able to position themselves as the natural party of government.

The state of democracy, politics and leadership in Scotland and the UK

Much media commentary in recent days has focused on the soap opera and disagreement between Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson which has brought into sharp focus that one of the characteristics of the Tory Party at the top is to be a conduit for its supporters, allies and donors to gain access to patronage, preferment and honours, including life-time membership of the House of Lords. Johnson has blown open the scale of this Tory self-preservation, self-protection racket and how rotten and corrupt the UK political system is.

Then again, our democracy, politics and government are not in a healthy state anywhere in the UK. The current Tory meltdown happened over the same weekend as Nicola Sturgeon was arrested and released as part of an ongoing police investigation into the SNP’s finances. Whatever the result of that process, the state of the SNP and its limited democracy, presidential-style leadership, and hoarding of power and authority at the apex of the political centre, has had dire consequences for politics and led to a host of mistakes, bad policies and poor spending choices. All of which will have lasting consequences long after the Sturgeon leadership becomes part of history.

Long-standing incumbency parties the world over always end up facing crisis and challenge: over-reaching, believing their own hype and invincibility, and ultimately incurring the wrath of voters. The SNP and Tories do have some similarities. They both now have poor records in government and are seeing their track records come back and haunt them; they both have scant new ideas and suffer from policy exhaustion, and demonstrate weak leadership for all to see where the current holders of office are overshadowed by previous leaders – Humza Yousaf by Nicola Sturgeon and Rishi Sunak by his predecessor but one, Boris Johnson.

One major difference between SNP and Tories for now is that the Nationalists are still, despite the above, relatively popular and ahead in the polls. That might well change in the next year particularly in Westminster voting intentions and if the prospect of a Labour Government looks a distinct possibility. But for the Tories the scale of their unpopularity is of a different level. Yet despite this Keir Starmer and Labour have still not sealed the deal and a Tory fightback of some sorts will undoubtedly happen next year, as the memory muscle of ‘the power nexus’ kicks in.

Must the Conservatives lose in 2024?

What will the Conservative Party offer in the next year to eighteen months as it tries to cling to office? It will inevitably be a deeply unattractive, unashamedly partisan and desperate agenda containing little positive content, indicating the unappealing and knee-jerk direction the Tories will take should they go into opposition.

The Conservative Party will not be able to run on its economic record given austerity, low growth and the fact that individuals would have £11,000 more per head if growth had continued at the same rate that it did under thirteen years of New Labour. They will have little positive to say on public services and spending, or their social record, with the scale of poverty, hardship and insecurity.

They will not be able to invoke credibly Great Britain Powerism considering the shrunken, isolated, diminished Britain which Brexit and Tory intransigence and xenophobia has aided. But they will be able to stoke ‘cultural wars’, ‘the war on woke’ and the bizarre belief that somehow ‘the establishment’ aided by the mysterious force that is ‘the blob’ (a paranoid right-wing term for an entrenched, inflexible civil service) have somehow waged war on the traditional party of the establishment – themselves.

The Tories will have a threadbare record to offer for what will be in 2024 fourteen years in office, longer than any Labour administrations have ever successively had in UK history. They will have to fall back on portraying themselves as victims and dupes of a whole host of sinister, dark forces and will be aided in this disingenuous project by a rancid, hysterical ultra-right-wing press (Mail, Express, Telegraph) who have increasingly lost any perspective.

In a 2024 contest expect all the old Tory tricks of presenting Labour as a threat to the British way of life. This will be combined with stoking up bigotry, hatred and bile. Keir Starmer will be painted as a figure who would be played by those scheming separatists the SNP in any hung Parliament. If that were not enough, he will be accused of being in hock to vested interests including the extremists of Just Stop Oil, and someone who cannot answer the basic question ‘what is a woman?’ And similarly, as Labour went personally after Sunak, Starmer said: ‘I take full responsibility for what I did as the Director of Public Prosecutions.’

Expect, following those words, that the Tories will see it as offering permission to get into the gutter to bring up the ghost of Jimmy Savile and claim that Starmer aided an establishment cover-up of a serial sex abuser. Labour has to be prepared on this and other fronts because the Tories will stoop to any low possible, aided by their desperate friends in the media, who are prepared to gaslight to the maximum to deflect attention.

The Tory Party, Toryism and idea of Tory Britain is in deep, existential crisis, but their desire to remain in office at any price runs deep. They will fight, invent fictitious stories and tell lies to try to cling on to power. And if all else fails after defeat next year, unless Labour reforms the British constitution and antiquated electoral system, they will – like many a nightmare and monster experience – be back at some point. Never ever write off the Tory Party as too many people have done in the past – to their peril and to the detriment of all of us.

One thought on “The Tories and democracy are in crisis – but can Tory Britain be defeated?

  1. This Tory party with its immoral, illegal and narrow nationalistic policies must be removed as soon as possible before they bring more shame to our country.
    We need a strong, wise, moral, democratic Labour Party to take over.
    Could we have a petition that
    Nick Lawson keeps his position with the Labour party.

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