Saturday 24 April 2021

The Myth of Tory Genius: A Case Study

Boris Johnson is no master of 11 dimensional chess. He's succeeded (and, ugh, is succeeding) thanks to the raft of opponents luck has thrown his way. And underlining this is the nonsense of recent weeks. The Tories' corrupt handling of the Coronavirus crisis has simmered on the backburner for a while, but since Dave's texts to Dishy Rishi came to light, Number 10 has been on the backfoot. Senior Tories caught on the take, Matt Hancock having shares in his sister's firm - who happens to have won NHS contracts, top civil servants caught with their fingers in the pies of outside interests, and then (then!) we had the "leak" of Johnson's text exchange with James Dyson. We'll sort out your little tax issue, he told the £20bn oligarch.

Having learned offence is the best defence from Lynton Crosby, Johnson's posse mounted the fightback! Working towards his feckless leader, from the pages of the Mail on Sunday Dan Hodges amplified Downing Street's initial response about the hunt for "redthroat", the supposedly Labour-loyal insider passing juicy stuff to the Opposition, who then forward it on to the hacks. He points the finger at a civil service looking at recovering its position following the heart attack of Dominic Cummings. And besides, with a leader as lazy as Johnson it falls to the permanent staff of state to ensure the machinery doesn't seize up out of neglect. Why not make a power grab if the boss is asleep on the job? Sadly for the likes of Hodges, there's no helping some people. Leaving it at this might have been job done. The ground was being prepared for a new enemy within, a nebulous but disloyal Sir Humphrey type that might make for a new "blob" that could be targeted for later anti-elite populism. The right wing press could contrive small scale hysteria about leaks, and Johnson would get plaudits for stepping in and proving himself an effective leader. Instead, the self-styled masters of the universe in Downing Street elected to make matters worse.

"Sources close to the Prime Minister" put it about the media that the actual source of the leaks was Cummings himself. In the first place hoping a new row over leaks would focus Westminster chat, and therefore coverage, away from corruption to the he-said-she-said psychodramas that fascinate the hacks but are seldom followed by the punters, this one badly misfired. No one's fool, Cummings replied in kind with a statement of his own. He claims Michael Gove's terrifying mini-me, Henry Newman was behind the so-called "chatty rat" leaks about the timings of the second lockdown and that Johnson derailed an investigation by the cabinet secretary because Newman is Carrie Symonds's best mate. He then goes on to say Johnson was all for tapping up Tory party donors to renovate his flat, saying this was "unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations." To rub salt into the wound, Cummings called for a parliamentary inquiry into these matters. Ouch.

So, instead of Westminster soap opera we get a renewed focus on backscratching, cronyism, and attempted corrupt dealings. Well done the underlings. And the spinners can now look forward to Cummings's line, "It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves" quoted back at Johnson by a gleeful Keir Starmer at any Prime Minister's Questions, and feature on Labour leaflets aplenty between now and the next general election.

It goes to show, again, that the Prime Minister is no master strategist and the people he surrounds himself with are hardly geniuses. This is just a reminder that there is nothing mystical about the Tories, and they are not overly blessed with preternatural talent. They only appear invincible because they understand who are likely to vote for them better than Labour knows its own electorate, and they are overly reliant on the cushion of institutional advantage afforded by their close relationship to print and broadcast media. The Tories are entirely beatable, and especially so if the time is taken to patiently study their tactics, strategies, and trajectories.

Image Credit


Dr Zoltan Jorovic said...

It isn't just that the Tories understand who is likely to vote for them better than labour. There are two further advantages. Those most likely to vote Tory are also more likely to vote at all, and there are enough of them to ensure a majority. Although there are more anti-Tory votes in total, they are split, and no suite of policies exists that can appeal to them all. Which makes the job of Labour that much trickier than that of the Conservatives. I suspect this could turned round with astute leadership and careful targeting of policies, but it still means that leading labour is much more difficult than leading The Tory party.

The FPTP system favours the part of the political spectrum with the fewest parties - in this case the Right. The only non-Tory rightist parties that make any impact are essentially single issue ones which tend to quickly have their appeal subsumed into the Tories who are adept at stealing policies from both right and left. The Conservatives are pragmatists whose sole unifying goal is to maintain themselves in power. There are numerous dogmatists and idealogues within their ranks, but the party is able to absorb this without being too adversely affected. They are like a massive jelly-fish which seizes anything within touching distance and either digests or includes it within its structure.

Ask any Tory what their ideology is and you'd get a range of vague rambling thoughts mixed in with some clarity about what they don't like. I think they are more united by what they don't want than what they do. It's a vote to ensure their life doesn't get worse, rather than one that aspires for life to get better. It's risk averse, and fed by fear. Change is always a risk, so the more you think you have to defend, the less inclined you are to take a gamble. Labour need to establish that change is necessary and that what they are offering is likely to deliver an improvement. I don't think that waiting for Johnson to make himself unelectable is a strategy, but it seems to be Starmer's plan.

Blissex said...

«The FPTP system favours the part of the political spectrum with the fewest parties - in this case the Right. The only non-Tory rightist parties that make any impact»

The LibDems are a party of the thatcherite whig right (just like New Labour), while the Conservative are a party of both the thatcherite tory right, and the thatcherite whig right. The only parties of the left are Labour and in part the Greens.

The argument “there are more anti-Tory votes in total, they are split” is based on confusing Tory and Conservative. Sure, the anti-Conservative vote is split, but when the Conservatives (or New Labour) win the elections the LibDems are not that disappointed, as another faction of the right has won. The LibDems only get really worried when Labour wins. It is a simple matter of class interests: the class interests of LibDems (or New Labour) and Conservatives are far more similar than those of LibDems (or New Labour) and Labour. As demonstrated by Keir Starmer's very soft opposition to the Conservatives and very hard opposition to Labour.

Blissex said...

«the class interests of LibDems (or New Labour) and Conservatives are far more similar than those of LibDems (or New Labour) and Labour.»

As to that my usual quote from Bertrand de Jouvenel: “There is more in common between two deputies, one of whom is a Communist, than between two Communists, one of whom is a deputy.”.

Consider the application of that to Byrne and Gove, and to Byrne and an electrician.