The Tories are as much of an institution in this country as they are a political party; interpret the democratic merits of this as you will. So much so that the 20th century has been branded the Conservative century, if only numerically; but what lies in store for the party in this next century; can they rectify such a poor start – a start which now sees them tied in second place with the Liberal Democrats? Surely re-entering government after its longest stint on the other side of the House can only suggest a revival for the party which has been wallowing in its own scandalous misery since 1997? Fortunately, politics is not as regimented as a changing of the guard and it would certainly not be farfetched for me to propose that this term in government could prove more detrimental than reaffirming to the future prospects of the Conservative party.
Perhaps forming a government the way they did in 2010 was a mistake, as Jeremy Paxman notes, the ‘plain fact is that some elections are better lost, and others are better won by a modest majority.’ (J. Paxman, the Political Animal, 2007). The immediate problem now faced by the Conservatives is how to behave considering the circumstances in which they find themselves, a situation not especially contusive to reversing the odium directed at Thatcherism and, therefore, in turn Conservatism itself – different entities coalesced in the minds of many in Britain. It is never easy to inherit a bust economy but this particular Conservative clean up is a necessary venture that could blacken the parties reputation even further, perhaps beyond a numerically viable future as an aspiring governing party for the next decade or beyond. This current term has the potential trappings for further disrepute, hindered by an ideologically incongruous partner and slowly wading through an economic quagmire; during which time the party must also attempt to reassert itself as sufficiently socially cognizant. In layman’s terms, the Conservatives must try to cut the economic deficit whilst repairing their image regarding social issues – all the while being publically solicited by a generally more socialist partner that carries less responsibility and is growing increasingly aware of the fact…
As I have discussed in a previous article, it is also very likely that their Liberal Democrat colleagues could find themselves in political no man’s land at the next election. The threat they themselves pose is of dissolving the government early in an attempt to save their own skin, a calculated tactic also likely to jeopardize the Conservative party; exposing them to the electorate prematurely – as with austerity time is precious. The indirect threat they pose is that if the Lib Dem vote does indeed disintegrate, it is likely that a higher percentage of this will swing to Labour rather than the Conservatives due to both ideological similarities, and the negative influence of incumbency directed at the Conservatives (especially considering that this swing will originate from their failed coalition partners). Again, this all depends on the image associated with the Conservatives come the next election; but it remains to be seen if Etonian Cameron can shake off the pompous aspic in a government that contains more cliques than claques; set on their own agendas. A breakdown in the influence of patronage and whippage in the party could be beneficial in reversing the presidential and elitist image of past Tory politics, with reference to Thatcher and Macmillan respectively, however without a single party majority and their partners looking to salvage some integrity, Cameron is hardly in a position to relax these conventions.
All this said, such a forlorn forecast is very much based upon the same assumptions by which New Labour governed the country – that seemed very nice at the time, but have since proven catastrophic to our economic longevity. So are these social liberal assumptions still the principals by which the majority in this country want to be governed? The election in 2010 did little to clarify this question; however recent polls have suggested increased support for the Conservatives, which now, nearly two years into their term, cannot be attributed to the electoral honeymoon period. Many still perceive Labour as economically inept and their tax and spend philosophy is not one sought after to instigate recovery. Europe could again prove the decisive factor regarding the future of the Conservatives – but not with the usual outcome. The Euroscepticism of the Right is now finally becoming a politically viable avenue as the EU struggles to maintain all 27 member states and ultimately fend off total oblivion. Not only this, but a general shift to the right seems likely – though perhaps Mr Cameron is pushing his luck in advocating the revival of state Church dogma. All in all, a partisan realignment could tip the balance in favour of the Conservatives, yet it remains to be seen to what extent this may occur, and similarly how well the party will gauge and legislate in response to this.
The fate of the Conservatives is still up in the air, a conclusive defeat at the next election is not as predictable as that of the annihilation fast approaching the Liberal Democrats. Depending on whether they can provide enough evidence of economic recovery heading in the right direction and if their stance on Europe is popular at the right time, the next election could be one for the Conservatives to win rather than for Labour to lose. Of course it is a tentative path ahead; granted Labour can produce a stronger leader in the future and some appetising policies this year, it will not allow much scope for error before the tables turn heavily against a Conservative revival. Oddly enough, perhaps a first in Conservative party history, it now seems that the party must rely on European instability and the economic plight remaining paramount in the British psyche so as to maintain the popular mandate for resolving these issues, territory their opponents are seen too feckless to tackle.