Liberal Conservatives must realise the party is being dragged across a sinister dividing line

Politicians who value liberal democracy are willing to work with other parties to improve people’s lives. Hard-right populists want to destroy their opponents

As Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak took their seats in the Commons, they seemed physically altered: Sunak diminished, Starmer almost larger than life, as if the transfer of power had altered our perceptions.

Such political transformations, new dawns, are often accompanied by warm words about cooperation for the greater good that gradually dissipate into party politicking with little thought for the people they serve. Therefore, many will be cynical about the Prime Minister’s opening pleasantries – his hopes that MPs “whatever our political differences” will “unite in a common endeavour of national renewal”. However, Starmer’s words have been matched by his eagerness to meet the leaders of the devolved nations and local authorities.

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Ben Houchen, the Conservative mayor of Tees Valley, told BBC Radio 4 that the Prime Minister was “keen to impress upon me that he wanted to work with me irrespective of party politics” and added, “to be honest I reiterated the same, I’m happy to work with anybody that wants to help me get things done for my region”. This is what politics should be like.

Keir Starmer urged MPs to work together on a 'common endeavour of national renewal' (Picture: House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)Keir Starmer urged MPs to work together on a 'common endeavour of national renewal' (Picture: House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)
Keir Starmer urged MPs to work together on a 'common endeavour of national renewal' (Picture: House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)
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An Iron Curtain

Those who believe in ‘liberal democracy’ – whether they are Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat – generally share similar political goals; their differences centre on how to achieve them. The same cannot be said for hard-right populists, who have no interest in working with their opponents, only destroying them.

Some Tories view Reform UK as part of the Conservative family. They are wrong. They say this is because they hope to drag their party across what is a fundamentally important dividing line. In 1946, Winston Churchill described another – the growing split between the free world and its former ally, the Soviet Union – in immortal words: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent.”

Conservatives who value liberal democracy and politics in service of the people must be similarly alive to the new dividing line being drawn through their party. They must resist it but also be prepared to find a new political home if the populists triumph, rather than be shackled by tradition and misplaced loyalties.

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