May herself is struggling, but the Conservatives have always been remarkably good at steadying the shipby Rachel Cuncliffe / June 26, 2017 / Leave a comment
Rumours of the party’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Photo: PA Parliament only reopened last week and already the new government seems in trouble. The country is united in its disapproval of Theresa May, half the proposals from the Conservative manifesto have been dropped, and the Tories have been forced to make large concessions in order to hammer out a deal with the ten DUP MPs who could make or break their government. Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell and his entourage are encouraging people to “defy Tory rule,” and acting as though May lost the election. And that’s before we even talk about Brexit. And yet, despite the mess that May has very clearly made for herself, we shouldn’t be fooled by reports of the Conservatives’ demise: the Tory party itself is doing just fine. The truth is, the election result really wasn’t as bad for the Tories as the left is pretending. To start with, it’s important to remember that May actually won the most votes and the most seats, and while the result devastated the cult of personality she has built around herself in Downing Street, the fact remains that the Conservatives did significantly better than Labour. That is why May was dutifully meeting military personnel on Armed Forces Day on Saturday, while Jeremy Corbyn was free to champion socialism on the stage at the (decidedly capitalist) Glastonbury festival. Second, don’t be misled into thinking the Labour party is any more united than it was a year ago, when 172 MPs voted against Corbyn in a No Confidence motion. The rallying cries of celebration from Labour obscure the fact that Corbyn won just four more seats in this “triumphant” election than Gordon Brown did in the “failure” of 2010. Corbyn defied expectations, yes—but only because they were so low to begin with, with predictions of a mass Labour wipeout. That’s enough for Corbyn-sceptic Labour MPs (who, to varying degrees, make up the majority of the PLP) to bite their tongues for a while, but now parliament is back in session, it won’t be long until the country will be reminded of the opposition leader’s utter incompetence. Those Labour moderates won’t stay quiet forever. The internal power struggles within the Labour party aren’t over—at the first Corbyn gaffe of the new parliament, expect to see an escalation to full-on civil war. As for the Tories, the future looks bright. While the rule of politics these days is to expect the unexpected, it seems highly unlikely that May will be prime minister by party conference season this October. There is an unofficial leadership contest underway, with chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexit secretary David Davis pulling out in front—possibly in tandem. Hammond has a reputation as a thoughtful and steady pair of hands (think May circa this time last year), and as a Remainer, is popular with the business community and those in the party who favour a softer break from the EU. Davis has the worthiest Brexit credentials of pretty much any Tory MP, and is also viewed as grown-up (as opposed to the panic-inducing threat of Boris Johnson, or worse, Andrea Leadsom). Already there are rumours of a Hammond-Davis alliance lining up to remove May and bring some much-needed stability to the party, and country, for the next two years of EU negotiations. It’s an appealing prospect for all but the most hardline Leavers and Remainers. But more than that, it’s evidence yet again of the Tory party’s ruthless pragmatism. There have been deep splits in the party regarding Europe since John Major, but Tory MPs are notoriously good at putting their differences to one side for the sake of winning (or staying in) power. May is weak and needs to go, but the party knows a messy leadership contest now would be—to quote Davis on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday—“catastrophic.” So, MPs are preparing to rally around a replacement leader and get on with the job of sorting out our EU exit before the 2019 deadline. Once that happens, say goodbye to any talk of an existential crisis. The Tory party knows what it is at its heart: the party of business, enterprise and markets—a direct adversary to socialism. In contrast, Labour has denounced the most successful leader it ever had, and remains locked in a battle between realistic social democrats and Marxist idealists who refuse to compromise for the sake of winning votes. This election was a setback for the Conservatives, no question. But even with a zombie leader and a government propped up by Northern Irish Christian fundamentalists, scorned by the rest of the country, they still look far more suited to leading Britain than any of the alternatives.