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The death of the Tory Party is long overdue

How the most successful political party in history became a rootless, pointless husk.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater
Editor

Topics Politics UK

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Rarely has a Tory prime minister cut such a pathetic figure. Watching Rishi Sunak do his best in the election leadership debates and interviews of recent weeks, it would be easy to forget that he leads what was until very recently the world’s most successful political party. A party that has dominated British politics for more than two centuries. A party that has held office for 98 of the past 150 years. And there he was on Sky News earlier this week, being asked by Beth Rigby to tell voters something about him that ‘might make them like you a bit more again’. He loves Haribo, was the answer.

What a tragicomic footnote to what – if the polls are even vaguely accurate – looks likely to be one of the worst General Election defeats the Conservatives have ever suffered. All of those comparisons to 1997, when John Major’s Conservatives were sent into opposition with just 165 MPs, are beginning to look on the optimistic side of things. Seat projections currently put the Conservatives on course to win anything between 71 and 180 seats.

The Tories haven’t won fewer than 160 seats since 1906. But if any Tory Party can do it, it is this Tory Party. It now enjoys the support of around 20 per cent of voters. Nigel Farage’s right-wing Reform Party has just pulled ahead of it in one poll, less than two weeks after Farage leapt into the race. Given the dysfunctions of first-past-the-post, Reform is unlikely to gain many (if any) seats. But its recent surge in support, particularly among disgruntled Brexit and 2019 Conservative voters, seems to have sealed Sunak’s fate.

What happened? Less than five years ago, the Tories had secured another historic, against-the-odds majority. Boris Johnson’s promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’ had allowed his party to reach deep into working-class, Leave-voting towns. Once again, the Conservatives had re-invented themselves, this time in the image of blue-collar, provincial England. Fast forward to today, and those voters are defecting in all directions, chiefly to the benefit of Reform and ‘Don’t Know’.

Squandering the Brexit moment, failing to consummate that new, fledgling relationship with the despised masses of post-industrial Britain, is coming back to haunt the Tories. After 2019, they swiftly reverted to back-stabbing type, as they dispatched Johnson following the Partygate circus and then proceeded to give every man and his dog a go at running the country, all without a mandate from the people. Meanwhile, there’s been uncontrolled migration, Net Zero and the woke takeover of our institutions – things the public never voted for and the government is desperately trying to pretend it had nothing to do with. Yes, incumbent parties – battered by Covid, Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis – are being turfed out everywhere. But the rout the Tories seem to be facing doesn’t suggest a government being humbled by economic or geopolitical circumstance. It is being repudiated – cast aside by a furious electorate.

We’re left with a party that stands for nothing, and for no one – that has lost its historical touchpoints with society but failed to develop any new ones. It’s staggering to think now, but in the 1950s the Tories boasted 2.8million members, easily eclipsing Labour. Today, there are just 172,000. Experts reckon those earlier numbers were exaggerated, but the Conservatives undoubtedly had genuine roots into society that have now withered and receded. ‘There were individual constituencies where the local Conservative Association had more than 10,000 members’, notes author Geoffrey Wheatcroft, ‘and the Young Conservatives was a thriving group, only in part because of its extrapolitical function as a kind of dating app’. Given the advancing average age of party members today, young Tories hoping to get laid now require the proclivities of Wayne Rooney.

The Conservatives might have ruled over us for most of the 21st century so far, but they have done so on increasingly shaky foundations. The party’s membership more than halved between 2002 and 2013. The ‘modernisation’ project of the David Cameron years, through which the so-called Notting Hill set hoped to cosy up to the new metropolitan elites, alienated what was left of the Conservatives’ more traditionalist base. Since Brexit and the slightly more populist, anti-woke turn of the Tories, the party has, in turn, become utterly alienated from the institutions on which it used to rely, be that big business or the Church of England. Indeed, the CofE used to be called the Conservative Party at Prayer. Now, following the church’s apparently inevitable fall to wokism, it is urging kids to ‘explore their gender identity’ while the Archbishop of Canterbury rails against the Rwanda policy from his perch in the House of Lords.

The Tory Party today is cut off from its more traditional sources of authority, loathed by the new elites and incapable of connecting to a Red Wall that held so much promise for Tory renewal, but that party bigwigs never truly understood. Hence it is now led by a man, in Rishi Sunak, who seems to have no idea why he is even in high office in the first place. While the stench is particularly strong at the moment, the Conservatives have been a dead party walking for some time now – sapped of its old mission and constituency and incapable of conquering new ones. The electorate might just be about to put it out of its misery.

Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on X: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK

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