Friday 21 October 2022

Where we are now


The Conservative party has a death wish. It’s the only credible explanation.

Its MPs no longer know what they want, what they believe, or what they’re for. They just want it to stop. All of it. Now. Please.

Look at what they have been through. 

The supreme folly of the Brexit referendum, foisted on them by David Cameron, a dilettante prime minister who had neither the skill, the courage nor the strength to see off his party’s ultras. 

The ramshackle chaos of the May administration, blown onto the rocks by those same ultras who thought the moment had finally come for their Reaganite, free-market ideology.

The shameful immorality of Boris Johnson, who broke the law, broke the rules and told so many lies that even his own MPs could take no more of him.

Let’s be merciful and cast a veil over what came next. 

And now, yet again, Tory MPs have to make a decision. Do they continue their slide into political oblivion, reaching such depths of electoral unpopularity that the pollsters are left gasping for air?

Or do they, somehow, step back from the brink and start the long, painful process of reinventing themselves as a serious political force?

It has come to something when a former Russian president greets the resignation of a British prime minister by sending his congratulations to the lettuce which had come to symbolise the utter humiliation of the UK government. (Dmitri Medvedev tweeted on Thursday: ‘Bye bye, Liz Truss, congrats to lettuce.’)

Four prime ministers in six years. Each one a Tory, and each one worse than the one they replaced. They have done immense damage to the UK economy, to its political structures and to the very fabric of British democracy. And now, it seems, many Tory MPs seriously believe that the answer to their problems – the best way to confront the existential threat to their party – is to turn the clock back and reinstate the pound-shop wannabe Churchill whom they kicked out less than six months ago. 

The definition of insanity, as Einstein never said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. 

The Conservative party used to be the epitome of un-ideology. Remember the old joke? ‘I’m not political at all, I just vote Conservative.’ Now, unless they reverse course, they are about to be dragged over the cliff edge by the very people who have inflicted so much damage both on their party and on the country.

Boris Johnson is no ideologue. But he is perfectly happy to indulge the ideologues if they help him further his own interests. 

Nor is Rishi Sunak a cuddly social democrat. But neither, as we saw from his response to the Covid pandemic, is he blinded by ideology. 

After the European parliament elections in May 2019, when the Brexit party won thirty per cent of the vote and the Tories slumped to fourth place, behind Labour and the Lib Dems, with less than ten per cent of votes cast, I suggested that it might be time for a realignment of the British political party system. 

Let’s have four main parties, I suggested: English Nationalists, Conservative Democrats, Social Democrats, and Socialists. ‘It is possible,’ I wrote, ‘that we are observing the beginning of the end of the Conservative party as we know it.’

The Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland argues that the Liz Truss experiment marks the end of what he calls Brexitism, ‘the view that reality, including the laws of economic gravity, can be wished away, so long as you screw your eyes tight shut and believe.’

On the other hand, perhaps Brexitism still has some life left in it, and we really are closer now to the end of the end of the Conservative party than we were three short years ago. We’ll know by the end of next week at the latest.