IT WAS Tony Blair’s unfulfilled ambition to consign the Conservatives to permanent oblivion. The Heir of Blair, however, has finally accomplished what his paradigm failed to achieve.
During his years as leader of the opposition David Cameron set about reinventing his party in the image of the most discredited brand in world politics – New Labour – and giving free rein to his undisguised contempt for traditional Tory supporters. He surrounded himself with a clique of “modernisers” in the same principles-free, plutocratic, “socially liberal” mould as himself, while losing no opportunity to alienate his party’s natural supporters. It was Toryism’s evil genius Francis Maude who articulated the fatuous “lose 25 per cent to gain 50 per cent” strategy.
In the first objective the Tories have achieved their target; the second goal eludes them. The suicidal consequences of these delusions became apparent at the 2010 general election when Cameron could not win a majority against the galactically unpopular Gordon Brown whose effortless anti-charisma withered the potted plants in No 10. It was a real challenge for the Tories to lose that election; Dave rose to that challenge. Since then, the slippage in Tory support has escalated into an avalanche. Last week’s by-elections, mayoral contest and police commissioner elections south of the Border provided a chilling route map of the Conservative Party’s march towards annihilation in 2015.
In the immediate run-up we were given an insight into the thinking in the Downing Street bunker by a newspaper article written by George Osborne – our part-time Chancellor apparently has leisure on his hands – in which he explained that the Conservatives’ cunning plan to win the next election was to promote same-sex marriage and similar “socially liberal” policies. Is this strategy working? That depends on the scale of the Tories’ ambitions. In the Manchester Central by-election last Thursday it motivated 754 social liberals to vote Conservative, so that Dave’s candidate managed to beat UKIP by five whole votes, despite the Tories losing their deposit. In Cardiff South and Penarth, a safe Labour seat, the Tories still contrived to disembarrass themselves of 8.4 per cent of their former supporters, presumably “homophobes” and types who “bang on about Europe”.
Corby was the jewel in the crown. The Conservatives lost this seat to Labour on a 13 per cent swing, with their vote reduced to four figures. Their Liberal Democrat accomplices in promoting social liberalism lost their deposit. Why was there a by-election? Because Dave used his notorious “A-List” to impose the self-advertising “chick-lit” author Louise Mensch on the local constituency until she flounced off. The big feature was the UKIP performance, its best ever in any by-election, gaining 5,108 votes. A tweet on the ConservativeHome website perceptively pointed out that the Conservative and UKIP vote conjoined could put Corby back within reach of the Tories, adding archly: “Time for that Europe speech, Mr Cameron?” Too late: we have had all the speeches and “cast-iron” guarantees from Dave that we can stomach. The UKIP vote is no longer reversible; nor is it exclusively about Europe anymore, it is about the Tories’ whole betrayal of their now departed core vote.
The police commissioner elections in England and Wales confirmed the reputation of Theresa May – who first launched the toxic “modernisation” scheme by telling loyal Tories: “There is no place for you in our [sic] party” – as incapable of organising a convivial event in a brewery. The turnout was below what would be expected at a parish council election – 15 per cent was reckoned good. Yet the trend was unmistakable: the two clear victors were UKIP and the Independent candidates. For the first time in British electoral history, independents defeated the three main parties and took office, including the mayoralty of Bristol. As at Corby, in the PCC elections UKIP pushed the Liberal Democrats into fourth place.
In the bunker, Cameronian spin doctors will desperately claim nothing can be forecast from elections based on so low a turnout (and whose fault was that, Dave?). Numerically, yes; but the percentages tell the real story. Britain hates the major parties. The question is, could this pro-independent bug leap the species barrier into parliamentary elections? If so, it would be the end of party monopoly in British governance. More likely UKIP will build on its new electoral credibility, as voters see its potential; nothing succeeds like success. The Tory grandees’ arrogant dismissal of their supporters – “They have nowhere else to go” – rings very hollow now. As last Thursday showed, no British television screen need ever register the caption “UKIP Gain” for the party to bury Cameron and his pseudo-Conservatism. Meantime, Baldrick Osborne has a cunning plan to take Brighton from the Greens.