Sunday 2 July 2017

Are the Tories Permanently Screwed?

Turmoil begets turmoil. We in the Labour Party know a bit about that thanks to two years of factional bloodletting, but now the Tories are setting about demonstrating how it should be done. With the billion quid signed off to Northern Ireland for the DUP's grubby support, it seems every minister in earshot of a mic is letting it be known they're pressing for more cash for their departments. Pleasingly, where there is turmoil there is incompetence. Never in anything but bountiful supply among Tory politicians, it transpires that the Prime Minister was contriving a walk out of the Brexit negotiations this Autumn simply because it would play well at home. My tip to Theresa May is if she wants to affect the bulldog spirit, it's not a good idea to widely trail it beforehand.

Yes, it's a ripe old mess alright and I'm loving every moment of it. If there's an opportunity to egg on and exacerbate divisions between Tories the Labour Party have to dive in with crowbars and clamps. However, the disaster area that is the government won't last forever, even if they're teetering atop a slippery slope. Paralysed at Westminster with nothing to do put pick over Brexit, gossip, and manoeuvre for eventual leadership bids, some are turning their eyes to the party's future - and so should we. One coming force was on the Andrew Marr sofa this morning talking about how the Tories have got to stop being the party of bad things, while she nodded away as Naomi Klein expounded her disaster capitalism thesis. Strange times.

If you look over at Conservative Home there are a few ideas too. They range from the reasonable (The Tories have to get social media), the waffly (moar houses), the divisive (lift the public sector pay freeze for the poorest), and the batshit (unban smoking!).

Damian Green, the PM's representative in the TV studios has other ideas. At a think tank talk yesterday, he argued the Tories needed to get down wiv da yoof, and his first stop was tuition fees. Darkly hinting that the government needs to ensure students are getting value for money, he noted that saddling 21 year olds with between £40K and £50K of debt probably isn't a good idea. It's a "huge issue", he conceded and floated the idea of reducing fees. And that was it. On top of flagging up house building plans and asking the assembled to have faith in the Tory industrial strategy to grow jobs for the young, that really was it.

Green demonstrates that Green doesn't understand what's going on. He knows things have changed, but he doesn't know the hows and the whats. If he thinks raiding Labour's 2015 manifesto and making off with Ed Miliband's pledge to reduce fees by three grand a year will turn it around for the Tories, they are going to be left totally non-plussed. Obvious to all except Green it seems, fees don't affect most young people. Where they're concerned, seven years of government have abandoned most non-students to low waged jobs masquerading as apprenticeships and a social security system that actively discriminates against them on grounds they're too young to claim. For young people in general, student and non-student, they're increasingly fed up of a dog-eat-dog society in which they see reward and opportunity cluster around the already privileged, and they want it to change. Offering a wee discount and getting senior Tories to pose with Megaman from So Solid Crew is not going to get 18-24 year olds lining up for them.

Is there anything they can do? Green also talks a little bit about entrepreneurialism and making the case for capitalism, but the problem is this "positive message" was backed by privatising essential infrastructure when Thatcher tried it, and by the grind of idiotic austerity when Dave and Osborne pushed their rebalancing agenda. Because of Tory short-sightedness and stupidity, it is entirely on them that capitalism has come to be associated in the popular imagination, especially among the young, with nepotism, inequality, injustice. Rather than put negatives next to them, they are celebrated by establishment figures. In so doing, they've done more to delegitimise the system they support than the sum total of the nation's sociology classes.

Repackaging capitalism won't do seeing as class politics are changing. The only route they have to veer from the declinist road they're on is root and branch change. Rather than the sectional party of capital they have become, they must try and represent its interests-in-general. That's what their historic role is, after all. But that is not enough. To re-win popular consent, the Tories have to go from the decadent, dysfunctional bunch they are today and become a party merely interested in conserving. Instead of pitting people against one another, a new conservatism has to be about building, nurturing, developing, of being a steady pair of hands. Think the domestic record of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats: unashamedly pro-capitalist but not reckless in terms of the interests of German capital and the politics of their country. It seems to me that in the shape of Heidi Allen and Ruth Davidson they have the politicians that could manage such a leadership, but the chance of the Tories finding their way to this destination is vanishingly tiny. And yet that is the hard road they must take to recovery. Until they do I hope you will join me in gleefully watching the chaos unfold.


Chrisso said...

"One coming force was on the Andrew Marr sofa this morning talking about how the Tories have got to stop being the party of bad things, while she nodded away as Naomi Klein expounded her disaster capitalism thesis. Strange times."
Had to look up the link to find that your March 2017 pick for next Tory leader is Heidi Allen! OK. Yes, she's good and leftish, if that's possible for a Tory. But she only became an MP two years ago. It's rather like Clive Lewis being suggested earlier this year to take over as leader after an inevitable Labour 1983-style defeat. I know Macron burst from the blue but really - would Tory shire voters repose their trust in such a newbie?

Anonymous said...

Yes, its surely still too soon for her.

In the short term they may have to settle for somebody who fits the "dull but competent" template. Hammond, or maybe Greg Clark?

Robert said...

No they are not permanently screwed. Night and the Tories always return.

keith said...

It's possible that the Tories could episodically represent the whole of capital, for example Brexit offers such an opportunity although one which is beyond the skill level of the current cabinet. But the Tories are captured by rentiers: The City, property speculators, landowners and foreign funds that offer good enough returns for investors. Unless they go to war with their own backers and owners, then its going to be the party that sucks the life out of the country including even local capital. The Dementia Tax being the most recent example of this dominance affecting policy.

Also, the Labour Party membership has, for all the calumnies heaped on it, taken and defended the right course over the past two years, partly because of its own lived experience among working people. The Tories declining membership and social weight of the rentiers means that the choices of personnel and policy priorities can be as bad as the MPs. May was chosen by MPs but i note CH had a recent poll of party membership where Gove was riding high.