Many senior former Conservatives have warned us about the current state of their party.
Philip Hammond wrote:
“the Conservative party has been taken over by unelected advisers, entryists and usurpers who are trying to turn it from a broad church into an extreme right-wing faction. Sadly, it is not the party I joined.”
Anna Soubry said
“The right wing… are now running the Conservative Party from top to toe. They are the Conservative Party.”
Ken Clarke highlighted the risks to our democracy:
“We are dangerously close to the ‘elected dictatorship’ that Lord Hailsham, the former Lord Chancellor, warned us about half a century ago.”
Even Max Hastings, ex-editor of the staunchly right-wing Daily Telegraph recently commented:
“What’s heart-breaking, I think for all of us, is that our country does seem in the eyes of the world increasingly ridiculous. … they don’t hate us, they just look at us with complete disbelief: ‘what has this country done to itself over the last 15 years?’ … Nigel Farage has poisoned the Conservative Party … the [extreme] right is now running Britain and it’s a terrifying sight. … For the sake of the Conservative Party and for Britain, they’ve got to go.”
Such views are increasingly widely-held, and the recent polls show a clear lead for Labour. At least one projection based on these polls suggests that there is a negligible chance of the Conservatives being re-elected. Electoral Calculus, using the polling data, suggests that the highest number of seats the Conservatives might expect is 223, while the lowest number Labour could count on is 346 – a very comfortable Labour win.
Given this, can we all (from the left to the centre-right, but not including extreme right) finally relax, knowing that the nightmare is coming to an end?
No. There are certainly grounds for hope and confidence, but none for complacency:
- A Conservative loss is likely, but is far from a foregone conclusion;
- Another term would cause enormous and possibly irreparable further damage to the UK; so
- The re-election of the Conservatives is the greatest threat the country faces.
A Conservative loss is not a foregone conclusion
Unfortunately, current polls are not a good predictor of distant elections. If you look at the polls over the last 3 years (click on ‘3 YEARS’ in the red bar), you see that the Conservatives were ahead for most of that time and in April 2020, their lead was very similar to Labour’s lead today. The next election is due in January 2025 (though the Conservatives could choose to call it earlier if it suited them). Plenty of time for movement.
How can we get a sense of what might happen that is not driven by the current polls? We can look at history. One recent analysis concluded:
“The fundamental methodologies are all suggesting small but comfortable Labour leads … but nothing like the 400/500+ Labour seat count we’re seeing predicted today.”
The House of Commons Library has helpfully compiled a century’s worth of election results. What these suggest is that voters do not start with a completely open mind at each election: they consider whether they have seen enough evidence to make it worth the risk of changing their minds since last time.
Big swings are therefore unusual. And Labour needs a big swing: the Conservatives currently have 355 seats, Labour have 196. A Labour victory would need a swing of at least 80 seats. That has happened before – but less than 15% of the time.
If we combine the current poll-driven picture with the historical picture, what we see is something like this:
If you only look at history, you conclude that the Conservatives have about a 70% chance of winning again. If you only look at the polls, you conclude that they have virtually no chance at all. The truth lies somewhere in between: a Conservative victory looks unlikely, but certainly should not be discounted.
Another Conservative term would cause enormous damage
Would it really matter? Could things get much worse? Would an alternative government really be much different? The answer to all these questions is a resounding Yes. We are not looking at a traditional Conservative government: we are looking at a government of the extreme right, in which almost every member of the Cabinet is a Market Fundamentalist.
The world they wish to create is one which – from the perspective of a normal member of the population – makes the underperforming Britain of today look like Utopia: they aim to subvert what they call “mass democracy,” get rid of the post-war social contract, remove almost all human rights (except for property rights) and reduce taxes to the lowest level compatible with preservation of those property rights, which means vast cuts to benefits (of which pensions are the largest part) and public services.
They see the hardship these changes will produce as a necessary part of the process of building a new Britain. As Lord Rees-Mogg wrote:
“Mass democracy leads to control of government by its ‘employees’. But wait. You may be saying that in most jurisdictions there are many more voters than there are persons on the government payroll. How could it be possible for employees to dominate under such conditions?
The welfare state emerged to answer exactly this quandary. Since there were not otherwise enough employees to create a working majority, increasing numbers of voters were effectively put on the payroll to receive transfer payments of all kinds. In effect the recipients of transfer payments and subsidies became student employees of government who were able to dispense with the bother of reporting every day to work.
The collapse of coerced income redistribution is bound to upset those who expect to be on the receiving end of the trillions in transfer programs. Mostly these will be ‘the losers or left-behinds’, persons without the skills to compete in global markets.
When the hope of aid for those falling behind is based primarily upon appeals to private individuals and charitable bodies, it will be more important than it has been in the twentieth century that the recipients of charity appear to be morally deserving to those voluntarily dispensing the charity.”
When “mass democracy” has been revoked and the welfare state removed,
“The new Sovereign Individual will operate like the gods of myth in the same physical environment as the ordinary, subject citizen, but in a separate realm politically.”
We are already seeing the sharpest fall in living standards since records began, failing public services, an economy which is drifting further and further behind what used to be our peers and an erosion of human rights we always took for granted. If Max Hastings is right that the UK is already seen as ridiculous, we risk being seen as horrific.
The Financial Times showed an analysis of the rightward movement of the UK Conservative Party and compared it with other parties around the world:
“Every few years, hundreds of political scientists evaluate political parties on various issues, from the environment to law and order, gender issues to the redistribution of wealth. As part of this they place these parties along the left-right scale of economics, with the far left indicating full-blown communism and the far right the most extreme low regulation, low tax, free-market approach.”
The results of this analysis are as follows:
Even before the lurch under Truss, the Conservative Party was far right (in line with Germany’s extreme-right Alternative Fur Deutschland) – and no major alternative UK party is even comparable.
“… if we had had an averagely competent government since 2010, the UK would not be in a state of emergency. We would be a more prosperous country, without failing public services and with higher wages. Tens of thousands of UK citizens who are dead today, would still be alive. And we would not be facing a cost-of-living crisis. And there would be many non-quantifiable ways in which the UK would be a far better country to live in.”
In short, a Conservative re-election would really matter, things could get a lot worse and an alternative government would be starkly different.
Today’s Conservative Party is the greatest single threat to the UK
There is a profession of risk-management: people whose job it is to help an organisation navigate the risks to which it is exposed. To a professional risk manager, risk = impact x probability.
We have seen that the probability of the Conservatives being re-elected is not trivial – perhaps between 20 per cent and 50 per cent – and the impact is that the UK would cease to be a developed democracy with a civilised social contract and become the Western world’s first formerly developed nation.
That is a very high risk.
Many of us are not used to thinking about such generic risks – perhaps we are most concerned about poverty, or saving the environment, or the explosion of mental health issues in the UK. Unfortunately, there is no chance of any of these problems being solved by a market fundamentalist government. Almost every problem that we care about will be exacerbated by the re-election of an extreme right-wing government.
There is a very good chance that the Conservatives will not be re-elected and that an alternative government will put the UK back onto a path of slow but steady progress. That is enormously positive news.
But the stakes are far too high for complacency.
To secure the future of the UK, we need change at the next General Election:
- Moderates and progressives in all political parties (including the Conservatives) to realise how high the stakes have become and to co-operate to avoid another Conservative government – together, moderates and progressives have a very good chance of winning;
- Voters to drop their traditional party allegiances and vote tactically – it is unlikely that the next government will be perfect, but it need not be destructive, and voters have the power to elect the least harmful option;
- Non-voters to understand that – even if in the past they did not feel that their vote could make a difference, it can now (as the results in Shropshire North, Chesham and Amersham, Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton all show, there is no longer such a thing as a safe seat).
Before that, we need to make sure that as many UK citizens as possible understand the threats to their – and their children’s – future. Please help us to share the message.
And meanwhile we need to keep the pressure on this government to act in our interests rather than those of their donors. Writing to MPs can seem futile, but when they get letters in large numbers, not from ‘the usual suspects’ and written in their own words rather than following a template, they start to worry about their own election prospects. If you would like to write, you will find these notes useful.
If you think you might like to help or just to keep informed, please do sign-up and join the 99% Organisation.