Sunday, September 09, 2012

Tory Tantrums

It is quite hard to fathom the current maelstrom of gossip in and about the British Conservative Party hitting the headlines this weekend. The Prime Minister has crafted a reshuffle that rewarded several of the more patient of his party's right wingers, without destabilizing the coalition itself too much. Yet the response has been a plethora of alleged plots and supposed fury. Plans are said to be afoot to bring Boris Johnson back into the House of Commons in order to challenge his erstwhile Eton and Oxford chum. The mechanism apparently involves a third old Etonian- Zac Goldsmith- standing down so that Johnson can return to the green benches of the House of Commons.

I think 98% of the population are probably asking "what madness is this?"

If such a large number of Conservatives now genuinely believe that the most Euro-sceptic Prime Minister in British history has somehow morphed into a bleeding-heart, then they seriously misunderstand both the Prime Minister, but also the nature of British politics in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Simply because Boris Johnson is more popular in the polls than David Cameron does not mean that it is necessary or even advisable that Cameron should be struck down. As Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has been able to ignore the several skeletons rattling in his closet, not least because his two-time opponent, Ken Livingstone, was just as indiscreet with women and cronies, with the added bonus of occasional money questions too. Setting out to become Prime Minister is an altogether different story. The cliquishness of the supposed OE plot has much potential to backfire- not least because Goldsmith's seat, far from being safe, is still quite marginal against the Liberal Democrats, who held it for 13 years before Goldsmith turned his well funded eye onto the constituency.

The fact is that the Tories are losing their heads.

The Liberal Democrats were forced to take a huge amount of punishment in the first two years since the coalition was formed. As they say "mistakes were made". However it is now increasingly recognized that the Lib Dems were more or less forced into supporting the coalition, given the extremely difficult economic circumstances, and given that no other coalition could be formed. It was- and is- a painful duty, not an enthusiastic grab for power, and the Lib Dems have paid the price: outmatched on AV and outright betrayed on House of Lords reform. Yet despite this, Mr. Clegg's leadership has generally retained the weary loyalty of his members, who understand the difficult political realities. 

By contrast many Conservatives seem determined to ignore realities- political and economic alike- and march down a radical road for which there is an insufficient consensus, either in the coalition or indeed the Tory party itself. The fact that David Cameron has not been able to provide the right with sufficient red meat: partial or even full withdrawal from the EU, large scale government spending cuts in health, welfare and education, an even more ludicrous immigration policy, is seen as a failure of his leadership, and not as a sign of the unreasonable nature of the right's demands. Yet those demands are crazy. There is no consensus for an EU withdrawal anywhere except in the Conservative right wing- and despite their arrogant moral certainty, the Tory right is a pretty small minority that gets ever more unconvincing as it grows ever more shrill and dogmatic.

The Tory right seeks revenge for the slights that they perceive that Cameron has launched against them. Yet the reality is that far from the supposed "Johnson plot" being the salvation of the Conservatives, it could mark the doom of the Conservative party. 

Self obsessed, doctrinaire and out of touch, the "flapping of white coats" now afflicts many on the Tory benches. A series of by election defeats, beginning with Corby, could mean that far from the Conservatives holding the ring until 2015, the Lib Dems find that they are no longer able to participate in a government of instability and irresponsibility and that new electoral maths gives them an alternative. 

The Lib Dems paid a price in order to obtain a stable government to deal with the economy. If the Tories can not deliver stability amongst themselves, then why should the Liberal Democrats continue to pay the price, if they find they have other choices?

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