What next for the Right?

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:

L: 36-38
C: 32-33
LD: 21-24

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.

  1. The Conservative party have not sold a vision of what they want the country to be, that is the problem. Running an effective election campaign means having a foundation to build on as you cannot introduce brand new ideas during the campaign, its too confusing for the electorate and the chances are your message will become obscured.

    There are many people on the right with good ideas, the think tanks being the best example and us bloggers in our own tiny way taking up the challenge. This is not getting reflected out into the wider world however nor is the Conservative party very interested or so it seems.

    Success in 2010 (Premier Brown will wait a full 5 years) will depend most of all on revitalising the party at the grass roots level and building it into a force capable of gaining the upper hand.

    Whatever happens today, we on the right have to be a part of rebuilding our arguments, vision and party and totally forgo the temptation of infighting and recriminations. Only then will we deserve to be the next government.

  2. “In all honesty, this election was there to be won, and we lost it ”

    You lost it when you voted for Smiffy (he always does things wrong) instead of Clarke.

  3. Andrew said:

    Not convinced about Clarke at that time. He wasn’t exactly a unifier. I’m under no illusions – we needed some time in quiet purgatory. But now it’s time to make some noise.

  4. I agree about selling a vision. All I’m getting from Con HQ is that Tory Britain would be a lot like it is now, except with matrons on the wards and a few less foreigners. That isn’t enough. It plays right to the Nasty Party stereotype. Blair sold a vision in 97. Thatcher did in 79. That’s what you have to do to unseat a government that hasn’t completely ballsed the place up for most people who live in it.

  5. john b said:

    I’m still hoping for a Tory split into a liberal party and a rabid bunch of UKIPpers (ideally followed by an LD split into the liberals, who could join this new liberal party, and the beardie nannyists, who could either join Labour or preferably form the new SDP…)

  6. Heh… Well, I grew up in a staunchly Tory, staunchly anti-EU household, and I’d genuinely love for the Conservative party to have a revival – as long as it’s a revival of the right sort. But to do it, in my books, they need a whole load of new blood – their current MPs are tainted by the failures of the last decade, and they seem to have few people of genuine vision any more (and whether I agree with that vision is beside the point).

    They need to go back to emphasising small government, to Disraeli’s two nation rhetoric, to the more pragmatic foreign policies of the likes of Major and and Macmillan (this nonsense about renegotiating with the EU may play well with the core, but is patently next to impossible in terms of realpolitik). But their primary problem is that both the majority of the parliamentary party and almost the whole of the membership are still obsessed with Thatcher, and as long as she overshadows them, they’re screwed. (Whether that’s fair or not is another matter entirely – the old dear has ended up with a far worse reputation than she probably deserves, looking at it as dispassonately as is possible…)

    Still, you lot’ll have Malcolm Rifkind back in the Commons tomorrow – maybe he’ll be able to help. He’s certainly not tainted by the last eight years of blundering, so perhaps he could be a good replacement for Howard? They’ll certainly be missing a trick if they don’t get him in the Shadow Cabinet…

  7. Andrew said:

    John b: While I’d kind of agree with you on that, my guess is that the new liberal party would be essentially unelectable, certainly not for any decent length of time. All it would take is a couple of grannies dying of MRSA in a filthy, crime-ridden, immigrant-run hospital, where ill-disciplined gypsy schoolkids ran from ward to ward, before the masses were crying out for government action. Or similar.

    I think we’ll be stuck with the old left/right split for a while yet, which is why the right needs to build a coalition of the willing.

    The prospect of that old relic Rifkind back in government is as depressing as losing this election will be…

  8. Sod it – who’s up for reviving the Whig party?

  9. I’m not, but then I’m a Tory and so by definition opposed to Whiggery in all its forms. (Except Burke, obviously.)

    I’m not convinced that this election was quite for the taking as you think, Andrew. The economy might have a few frayed edges, but in terms of the electorate’s folk memory, we’ve had some fat years (look at all that stacked-up property wealth).

    Also, love the man or hate him, Blair is the undoubted Colossus of his political generation. He has the Baldwin touch of being seen as sound, trustworthy (even if he lies), ‘one of us’ and a ‘good chap’ to Middle England. Winning against him in the midst of recession would be difficult, but times have been good, on the whole. (A mark of how much better this country is than in the 1970s is that you gon’t have to be especially well-governed for things to keep getting better.)

    Kenneth Clarke… he’d have given Blair more of a challenge, but it would’ve been short term gain for long term pain. The man is not in the centre of the Tory Party, and I wonder how well he’d get on in New Labour either – he’s a bit of a Heathite throwback in many ways (More EU integration and a 3 day week – almost like the French…). Yes, we might’ve cheered as he laid some harsh blows on Blair, but we of the more foaming-anti-EU variety would’ve pretty much have had to give up the ghost…

    Will post on this properly later (or tomorrow – bizarrely I’ve ended up with social commitments for election night; talk about bad planning), but I do agree that it’s long past time we on the Right smiled through getting smacked in the face again and again. But I think we also need to wake up and smell the coffee on a lot of things – and Nosemonkey’s quite right, part of that is that we need to get over Thatcher.

  10. Andrew said:

    Clarke would certainly have improved UKIP’s share of the vote.

  11. Nick said:

    Actually, I don’t think they lost it when they went for IDS over Clarke, but rather when Portillo didn’t make it to the final membership round of the leadership contest. The issue isn’t really whether he won or not, but that he and his supporters weren’t able to have the fight they wanted for the future of the Party and thus felt that they had a right to snipe at IDS until they got rid of him.

    I’m well-known for being a good old fashioned bleeding-heart liberal, but even I would welcome a Conservative Party that I could at least consider voting for, even though it’s unlikely I would, not just one I’d dismiss out of hand.

  12. Andrew said:

    Yeah, that’s probably partly true, although we’d almost certainly be having the same discussion with the names reversed if Portillo had won or even come second. I don’t think the problem is that there are two options: modernism/centrism, or the retreat to the right. I think we need both, but we need to make it appear as though we are neither and both, to different groups of people.

  13. You mean be duplicitous?

    Next you’ll be suggesting we try to win elections..!

  14. Monjo said:

    If the economy does well and the country, then the Conservatives may have a long wait for power. As Brits we must want the country to do well; the problem the Conservatives have is they need to persuade people that whilst the country is ticking along alright under Labour – it would be growing at a faster rate under them, and life would be better. However, people still remember the ERM pull-out and the recession.

  15. In my view the economy will be in serious trouble by the time of the next election, owing primarily to high oil prices. The only question is whether or not the tories are still a credible party by then.

  16. Andrew said:

    If that Beeb exit poll is right, we might just put the meltdown, rethink, and backstabbing session on hold.

  17. Damn. Had the knives all sharpened and ready to go.

  18. Edward said:

    You are spot on. We need to explain why the right can be good for the whole country and stand up for ourselves in a respectable manner. Then the world is our oyster.

  19. EU Serf said:

    Clarke was needed in the Shadow Cabinet but not as leader. As a Europhile he would have split the party again. That said only a stupid party wastes people of talentwhen they has such a shallow pool to draw from.

  20. Katie said:

    You know, I agree with the libertarian thing, and I don’t mind them not being electable, because I think it takes a long time to build into a party people can be proud of voting for. But yes, in a terrible callous way, Thatcherism will only become truly libertarian once the lady herself has left us (and I don’t just mean for Venice) and the party faithful are no longer weeing themselves with worry that she’ll disapprove of them. Interestingly, here in France, and back in the States, all major leaders get an ism. Jospinie, Chiraquie, Reaganism, Clintonism and so on, but here in Britain, we have Thatcherism, and Blairites. Nobody can even contemplate “howard-ism” can they? We are more reticent with our baptism of political philosophies.