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The great Tory meltdown

British politics could do with some creative destruction.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater
Editor

Topics Politics UK

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Historic. Unprecedented. These political clichés are now worn out to the point of uselessness. But there really is no other way to describe what is apparently happening to the Conservatives in this General Election. Namely, their apparent destruction as a viable election winner.

Over the past 24 hours, a string of MRP ‘mega polls’ have suggested Rishi Sunak’s government is on course for a defeat on a scale we have simply never seen before. The polls only differ on just how painful (and record-breaking) the electoral battering is going to be.

The most optimistic projection for the Conservatives comes from More in Common. And it still reckons Labour will win a staggering 406 seats – a 162-seat majority. This would leave the Tories with 155 seats, one fewer than their record low in the 1906 ‘Liberal landslide’.

Remember, that’s the good news. According to YouGov, the Conservatives are in for an almighty drubbing, leaving them with just 108 seats. According to Savanta, it’s just 53. In that scenario, they’d barely beat the Libs Dems into second place.

Under this poll, Sunak would lose his seat, too. A sitting PM sent packing from his constituency has also never happened before. It would make 1997’s Portillo Moment look like a minor embarrassment by comparison.

The usual disclaimers apply. The pollsters have been wrong before, albeit never on this scale. But MRPs have a better record of predicting recent elections; they poll tens of thousands of voters and collect reams of demographic data to project how each individual seat may vote. There would have to be untold hordes of ‘shy Tories’ out there for the Conservatives to escape this election without racking up a new personal worst.

While pundits swap chin-stroking predictions, and speculation about the leadership dog and pony show to come begins in earnest, what’s beyond doubt is that the Tories thoroughly deserve the electoral GBH that is about to be rained down upon their heads.

Dining out on old glories, the supposed ‘natural party of government’ thought it had a right to rule forever, despite becoming a shallow husk. It may be the old party of the establishment, but it at least once had a mass membership, substance, a point. Now it resembles a make-work scheme for vapid public schoolboys.

The slow drift of the English working classes away from an increasingly bourgeois Labour Party – a tectonic shift which commenced long before Brexit – offered the Conservatives the prospect of reinvention. And they fucked it.

They barely got Brexit over the line. They presided over the green degradation of our economy and the Great Awokening of our institutions, before briefly pretending to be against all that ‘loony left’ nonsense.

On immigration, the Tories have essentially committed a form of political fraud, telling voters they would bring it down to ‘the tens of thousands’, only to watch net migration rise well over 600,000 – more than three times higher than at the end of the New Labour years.

Having failed to seal the deal with the provincial working classes, the Conservatives are now even more thoroughly loathed by the metropolitan middle classes. Having squandered the populist moment, they look – once again – like a holdover from a bygone era; ideologically spent and speaking for no clear constituency.

For decades, the Tories and Labour have been propped up by the quirks of our unrepresentative electoral system and the muscle memory of party loyalty. Since Brexit, both appear to be rapidly breaking down, with sometimes erratic and disparate results.

In the postwar era, even at their respective nadirs, the Conservatives and Labour could still count on the support of roughly 30 per cent of the electorate. If these polls are to be believed, the Tories are about to break that barrier – currently, the party is polling in the low-20s.

Meanwhile, as the Telegraph’s Tim Stanley observes, first-past-the-post is supposed to produce stable government and a strong opposition. Instead, we are staring down the barrel of a hundreds-strong Labour majority, based on a vote share that could actually be lower than the one Jeremy Corbyn achieved in 2017. Keir Starmer will, on paper, become one of the most successful politicians in history, despite exciting precisely no one and believing in absolutely nothing.

Just as Labour was smashed by a furious, pro-Brexit electorate in 2019, so the Tories seem likely to be smashed by a furious, let down electorate in 2024. While this seems likely to deliver a totally unearned ‘super majority’ to human windsock Starmer, the past few years have shown us that – in these volatile times, in which the old loyalties have frayed – governments can fall as spectacularly as they rose.

The Conservative Party as we know it is dying. Don’t mourn. British politics has long been ripe for some creative destruction. Let’s just hope it won’t be long before the electoral wrecking ball swings back in the other direction – and delivers another ‘historic’ blow to Labour.

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

Melanie Phillips and Brendan O’Neill – live and in conversation

Melanie Phillips and Brendan O’Neill – live and in conversation

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Topics Politics UK

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