Tory politics after 2010
This is still a country which is socially conservative, sexually permissive, economically entrepreneurial and obstinately attached to a statist welfare system. But we are less inclined to disenfranchise the fence-sitting Lib-Dem voters. What now for the Tories?
Thirty years ago, the British accepted with some complacency that six million Lib Dem voters got a rotten deal representationally. In an age of pick ‘n’ mix consumer choice and identity politics that looks less and less sustainable. Whether in hung parliament negotiations or electoral reform, we are likely to accord the Lib Dems more power in future. The wheels may fall off their wagon as we do so, or it may gather speed.
The Lib Dems face a fascinating dilemma. People like Simon Hughes say the country has a centre-left “progressive” majority but in the next breath has to accept that it has just given the centre-right a clear lead.
From 2005 to 2010 David Cameron tried to make his party look like the Lib Dems. He succeeded and it is possible to argue that he rescued the Tory vote. But it is also possible to argue that he threw away votes too by seeming too Blairite to head a decent government. Anyway, the Lib-Dems slightly increased their vote too.
Can the Tories ever again get the right and the centre-right to coalesce under their banner? Come to that, can Labour ever get the left and the centre-left to coalesce under their banner? Come to that, will the Lib-Dems become a solid centre party, rather than a protest vote? There is a distinct possibility that when the Lib Dems have real power they will irritate people sufficiently to revivify support for a matching and opposed pair of centre right and centre left parties.
I don’t think the parties’ leaders will get to choose very much about what unfolds in the medium term. We will almost certainly accord the third party more power. I have high hopes that parliamentarians (I mean individual MPs and peers) will gain authority, and I think they may use it toward fiscal soundness at least in the present crisis.
I think in the very long haul, the statist welfare state is a dead duck. I think the country will then look more coherently like a centre-right country and that a party or a coalition which will look quite Cameronian will run things. I think it will be circled and harried by parties which represent, inter alia, various regions, civil liberty liberals, unionised socialists, and fundamentalist greens.
There are other possibilities. The country may stay wedded to a statist welfare state. Whether it does or not, Conservatives may still play an important role in running it well (as they often have done historically).
With or without a statist welfare state, Conservatives are likely to be very important in working out what sort of economic policy is workable, both in terms of efficiency and equitability.
I think the big opportunity for Tories – and David Cameron has ducked it for five years – is to build on his party’s reputation for sound government. New Labour delivered its policies in a very shabby way. This is the area where Tories can hit home, and play to instead of suffering from their reputation for pragmatism.