28 October 2003
The Ides of March have come a little earlier than usual. The notorious and racist right-wing Tory cabal, otherwise known as the 1922 Committee, fed up with Ian Duncan Smith’s wimpy ‘liberal’ programme have finally managed to whip up enough hysteria to challenge IDS for the leadership of the Tory Party. So barring a miracle, it looks like it might be curtains for IDS by tomorrow (29/10/03).
The problem of course, is that IDS is just not rightwing enough for the right-wing party, which creates a bit of a problem for the Tories, as New Labour has already taken that seat. If the Tories go any further to the right than Labour has, they’ll end up in bed with the British National Party, which if the 1922 Committee gets its way, is precisely where the Tories are headed as they’ve got no other place to go, except down.
What has created this turmoil? Well aside from back-bench conspiracies by the right of the party, it reveals a political party that’s basically well past its sell-by date. The post-Thatcher, post-Soviet realignment of British politics has basically left us with a political formation called the Conservative Party that is surplus to requirement. Short of a major leftward turn in the Labour Party, which is about as likely as IDS winning the vote to stay on as head the Tories, unless something drastic is done, the Tories are headed for history’s dustbin. And interestingly, you won’t find a mention in the mainstream press of this. As far as the corporate press is concerned, it’s all down to ‘personalities’.
What is at stake? Well aside from the future of the Tory Party as the ‘official opposition’ in the House of Commons, the right wing of the party realise that their only hope for survival is to appeal to the most backward elements of the country. This means appealing to people who still call the French ‘frogs’ and think ‘civilisation’ ends this side of the English Channel. This is so-called middle England that is, middle-aged and in the middle of the country and still living in a world that vanished decades ago.
At the other end of the political scale, the Tories will set their sights on poor, working class constituencies that are vulnerable to the kinds of propaganda the British National Party is dishing out, in the hope of winning the xenophobe, racist vote and in doing so, the danger is that this will force New Labour even further to the right than it already is.
The other major issue the Tories hope to exploit is the EU and the Euro and again, cash in on the xenophobe ‘island race’ vote. Labour hasn’t helped by vacillating on the issue by trying to do the splits across the Atlantic. But are these two, basically connected issues enough to win an election with? Much may hinge on who comes out on top if IDS gets deposed. But the bottom line is a policy that can be sold to an electorate that already has a Tory Party and if the Labour retreads that were trundled out at the Tory Party conference a few weeks ago are it, then no matter who is in charge, the Tory case is lost before they even start campaigning.
Without a viable progressive alternative, either within or without the Labour Party, the signs are not good. Labour managed to coincide its election victories with economic ‘good times’ but these look like they’re coming to an end. With a projected £10 billion shortfall in income next year, Labour are going to have to make some tough decisions; either cut government spending or raise taxes even more than they have in the past year. And next year the election will be just around the corner. What’s a reconstructed right wing political party to do?
Labour’s problem is further compounded by the fact that the ‘liberal left’ position it vacated under Blair has been filled by the Liberal Democrats, who given the gains they’ve made in recent by-elections at the expense of both Labour and Tory voters, reveals a political vacuum in the British political scene. But even if the Liberal Democrats can capture the ‘old’ Labour vote, they will ultimately face the same problem that both the Tories and New Labour face, namely trying to manage a floundering capitalism that moves ever closer to meltdown with every passing day.
The people who voted Blair into power in 1997, voted for him on the expectation of progressive policies being enacted, particularly in the public sectors of health, education and transport, all of which had been totally trashed by nineteen years of Tory rule. Instead, they got a transvestite Tory programme that claims to be progressive but whose reality is anything but.
The fundamental problem is the traitorous history of the Labour Party in trying to out-Tory the Tories every time they get into power, screwing it up and getting tossed out at the next election. Blair’s strategy in 1997 was to make damn sure that they did it ‘right’ and end the circular nature British electoral politics that’s been in place with the exception of the Thatcher years, ever since 1945. The problem with this approach is that ultimately, it offers nothing new. Everything hinges not on which government is in power but on how well the economy is doing, and to what degree the two dominant parties can ape each other in the race for votes. And the voters know this and show it by simply not voting in greater numbers in successive general elections.
It may well be that the ‘significant third’ of the voters are ready for a party that can come up with a forward looking, innovative and progressive programme by the time of the next election. Not much chance of that I know, but I can dream can’t I? Much will hinge on whether or not Blair decides to go along with Bush the smaller’s next mad ‘adventure’ in neo-imperialism and on how well the economy does over the next twelve months. But who knows, anything could happen over the next twelve months including the emergence of a genuine alternative to the current merry-go-round.