Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Downing Street's crazy panic


Europe? Gay marriage? Swivel-eyed loons? The Conservative Party has taken leave of its senses, after a spring when things seemed to be heading back their way. It's ill-judged, insensitive, distracting and downright self-destructive. The whole thing has a last-days-of-Pompeii feel to it, akin to Labour's fratricidal blood-letting in the early 1980s. And we all know how that ended.

The division between David Cameron and his ever-smaller band of followers owes something to the Prime Minister's own laid-back persona; more to the schisms of social class that bedevil all English life; and lots to the poisoned well of a post-Thatcher Conservative Party taught to love the smack of 'firm leadership' (for which read: refusing to listen to anyone who disagrees with you). Not it's all come out into the open. Conservative MPs are even scurrying to their local newspapers and denouncing their colleagues as 'loons' - something hardly calibrated to lower the temperature. There's a ready-made Right-wing alternative to turn to if you don't like a reformist Cameroon Conservatism that is clearly wilting, just as thousands of Right-leaning Labourites deserted their party to join the Social Democrats in the eary 1980s. And it might be that the Right is beginning to efface itself from any serious claim on adult governance, just as the Left did for so many years in the late twentieth century.

It's just crazy. British Conservatives seem determined to head down the same rabbit hole that US Republicans have plunged into, valuing intellectual probity and ideological commitment (of a sort) over electability. Over issues that are not central to most voters. All at a time when the economy does, at long, long, last, seem to be showing signs of life - and when medium- to long-term political opportunities are there to be seized. All right, some of those signs of a pickup - like rising house prices - are exactly the wrong signals one would want to see if we're to break out of consumer growth and boom-and-bust economics once and for all. And it will take many years for the hole blown in real incomes to be made up. But business activity is up; inflation is down; GDP forecasts are getting slightly healthier; graduate job opportunities are not looking quite so dire as they did.

That might still constitute a not-so-shabby platform for re-election in 2015. Not as a majority Conservative government, mind you - if Scotland stays inside the United Kingdom, there is almost no chance of that whatsoever - but at least as a minority with a strong chance of governing for a while.

That's not such a bad target to aim at when your party brand is so polluted. But for now Conservatives just can't see it. They're embroiled in The Tory Wars - which look set to run and run.

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