The polls are open, the people are voting, and, barring some form of catastrophic disaster removing the top half of the United Kingdom, it’s all really over. Tony is about to romp home to a 3rd successive, historic victory. The opinion polls are probably wrong (they historically tend to overstate Labour slightly), but there is a disturbing consensus around the result:
and even the betting exchanges are showing Labour with around 370 seats, the Tories on about 190, and the Libs on about 65, which would give an overall majority around 90 for our glorious leader.
I would argue that with an unpopular government looking for a 3rd term in office, with a massively discredited leader and a slowly crumbling economy, this is not a great result for us on the right. It is rapidly becoming traditional, amongst the Tory faithful, to swiftly knife the leader after polling day to try to banish the memories of what went wrong and why, and although that will probably not happen this time, it will do in a year, and the parliamentary party will have learnt precisely nothing (on aggregate at least – the modernists will claim we should be more centrist, and the paleo-cons will claim we should be more right-wing). Although the electoral process is difficult for the Tories at the moment, it’s a bit rich to blame the system when we had a stake in the Boundary Commission that made it as it is. Plus, we’ve benefitted in the past, so it’s hard to cry foul now – for the same reason, it’s hard for the Tory party to point to the, frankly ridiculous, numbers of claimants of incapacity benefits and insist that they are de facto unemployed, because we invented that little fudge…
In all honesty, this election was there to be won, and we lost it (I’m going to look pretty stupid in the event that we actually don’t lose it…). I think Howard fought a bad campaign, not because of the issues he chose, although there will be all kinds of media comment over the next week about his unrelenting bashing of immigrants, gypsies,
Jews(whoops, that’s the Labour party), and other assorted minority scapegoats. I think his campaign was pretty petty minded, in the sense that instead of inspiring people by talking about big visions and big reforms in healthcare, in education, in the economy, and so on, he talked about sweeping floors and sending kids to detention. I also think the media played it’s part, and this isn’t a whiny swipe at the much cliched liberal media that us VRWC bloggers like to write about, because they are looking for a story, and this is an easy one to go for: Nasty party still nasty. Crosby should have figured that out, and moved to neutralise it. I don’t know if leafletting people directly via Voter Vault will have done it, but somehow, I doubt it. Most people, I guess, don’t bother reading electoral mailings. They’d rather trust that nice man on the Beeb, and if he opens his interview by saying, “Good evening Michael Howard. You’re obsessed with immigration, aren’t you? Why are you so negative?” – a bit of that is going to stick.
Even though the boundaries do give Labour something like a 30-40 seat advantage, there was still an option at this election to make gains by selling a positive message about what a Britain ruled by the Conservatives would look like (there’s an opening for my fellow bloggers to make some easy comments…). I’m not really of the opinion that the Tories should move to being a party of classical liberalism, not least because there just isn’t electoral mileage in it, as much as I would like them to be that party. I think Labour’s great success over the last 10 years and more has been in building a useful coalition of people who really aren’t that alike. The Republicans in the US have done something similar, marrying the religious social conservatives to the libertarian right, and getting (generally) the poor to vote for tax cuts for the rich. Simplistic, but at least partially true. The Tories can’t survive by being a centre-right equivalent to New Labour, in the sense that Portillo and the modernisers want, nor can they survive by being UKIP, as the paleo-cons would want. They have to find common ground and sell it to the sceptics. The next year is absolutely crucial in doing that. We need to come out of this election fighting, and definitely not amongst ourselves. I’ll save one good word for Howard at the end – he has partially instilled this in the party. Although we (massively) disagree on the right about social issues, Europe, the size of the state and even foreign policy (God forbid), we don’t let the media know about it, and we’ve been pretty disciplined in that respect. That has to carry forward, but to a much greater extent.
My mission, over the next 4-5 years, is to convince the lefties on the sidebar over there, that the Tory party doesn’t actually have to be that nasty, that a small state is a good thing, and that it’s worth ticking that Conservative box in the next election. If I can get one of them to do it, I’ll have succeeded, and so will this blog. Of course, the converse is true – they may end up getting me to vote for the Green Socialist Party of Communist Britain, or some other such nonsense. Let battle commence.