The party is split and morale is low. But if millions will still vote for it in this state, imagine what it could do with a new leader and a new driveby Mark Wallace / March 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
“Who wants to wade through shit as a candidate right now?” an experienced Conservative campaign operative asked me recently. The question wasn’t rhetorical—he, like many of his colleagues, was struggling to find people to stand in the local elections. “I have never failed to secure a full slate, but I think it’s about to happen.” The problem is not confined to council candidates. Recent selections in target parliamentary constituencies—seats that the Tories must gain to secure a workable majority—have attracted a mere handful of applicants. Some that expected scores of CVs instead received fewer than 10. Less choice means weaker candidates, reduced chances of gaining key seats, and ultimately a lower quality of MP even where they’re successful.
There are plenty of other red lights flashing on the Tory dashboard. After record amounts of money were squandered in 2017, the Treasurer’s department battles to keep donors engaged. Membership is up somewhat due to hopes of a leadership vote, but is still less than a quarter of the size of Labour’s Corbynite army.
Many have failed to register the depth of these organisational and cultural problems because even as Theresa May has staggered from blunder to misstep and plumbed the depths on her personal ratings, the party has (mostly) retained its lead in the polls. Admittedly, it has been aided by the obscene farce of Corbyn’s opposition, but it holds on to deeper advantages too: the right’s answers to life’s problems are still more true than the left’s.
But the activist core is demoralised and fractious, and increasingly out of sympathy with the party’s higher-ups. Charges of entryism are bogus, but the fact they are made illustrates a somewhat paranoid environment. Tempers, and relationships, are fraying, including between some MPs and their associations—one, Nick Boles, has effectively divorced his local party while keeping the whip in the Commons.
Some of this is about the leadership. Canvassers for local elections are met with complaints about Theresa May. Many council candidates had given up making excuses for her by the time she signalled she would soon quit, and it remains to be seen whether that gesture will make much odds in what is supposed to be a local election. But some Tories have gone on strike—withdrawing candidacies, time and money—for reasons beyond personnel, foremost among them…