Tory defections signal end of conservative dominance: Martin Ivens

Tory defections signal end of conservative dominance: Martin Ivens

As the UK gears up for a seismic political shift, the defection of two Conservative MPs to the Labour Party signals the end of Tory dominance. Amidst scandals and internal strife, opportunistic politicians are flocking to the opposition, sensing victory on the horizon. With Labour commanding a staggering lead in polls, even former Tory heavyweights are jumping ship. As the pendulum swings away from the Conservatives, the era of Tory hegemony appears to be fading into history.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.

By Martin Ivens

  Two Conservative Members of Parliament have recently crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the opposition Labour Party, which is the odds-on favorite to win the next UK general election due within months. The defections are a strong indicator that, after 14 years, the era  of Tory hegemony is at last coming to an end.

Former colleagues and the Tory press rage against the traitors,  but their barbs hardly sting. Many Conservatives are honest opportunists — they joined the party of the establishment that’s run the country for two-thirds of the past century to get on in the world — whereas Labour MPs have enjoyed the consolations of ideological purity mostly in opposition. 

Less-dogmatic politicians, a generic type common to most democracies, find it less of an emotional wrench to switch sides, especially when backing a clear winner. Many companies, and the public relations outfits that facilitate their access to power, arrived at the same conclusion long ago — it’s time to suck up to Labour.

In the 1990s, as Tony Blair’s rebranded “New Labour” advanced on No. 10, John Major’s Conservative government was battered by sex and financial scandals, accompanied by high-level defections as the party’s former communications supremo and a minister jumped ship. Both men served happily under Blair and his successor Gordon Brown.  Meanwhile, trouser-dropping Tories became a staple of TV comedy. This time around, the sex scandals are just as grubby but the deserters are less elevated.

The most recent defector to Labour, Natalie Elphicke, held political views that were — until Wednesday at least —  so right-wing that several members of Labour’s shadow cabinet team have briefed journalists off-the-record about their personal distaste at their party’s embrace of her. Former party leader Neil Kinnock spoke for his anonymous brethren when he said that Labour is “a very broad church but churches have walls and there are limits.” 

Labour’s high command calculates that the voters will only notice that another Tory MP has washed her hands of her bickering party, not her curious pedigree. Besides, quantity matters as much as quality — Labour promises more defections to come. Keir Starmer, once dubbed “Sir Softie” by Elphicke for his stance on immigration, can weather a little turbulence in the ranks. The latest YouGov poll for the Times newspaper puts Labour a whopping 30 points ahead of the Conservatives — the party’s largest lead since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, was forced from office amid market chaos 18 months ago. 

The prime minister’s misery, meantime, has no end. Ben Houchen, the only Tory mayor to have survived last week’s cull in the local elections, unhelpfully told the BBC on Thursday that his party “are fighting each other like rats in the sack,” although the responsibility “ultimately lies with Rishi.” The PM deserves better than this from his party –  Sunak has brought back a modicum of stability and decorum to government after the chaos under Boris Johnson and then Truss. Figures released Friday showed that the UK economy grew a respectable 0.6% in the first quarter, while consumer confidence has recovered and inflation has slowed sufficiently for the Bank of England to be contemplating a rate cut as early as next month.

The most significant Tory defectors to Labour aren’t sitting in Parliament. A clutch of former Conservative MPs who were kicked out of the party for fighting a guerrilla war against Brexit after losing the referendum on European Union membership are now flocking to Starmer’s standard. They really do represent the establishment.

Nick Boles, a former minister who helped craft David Cameron’s modernizing message when he led the Tories back to power in 2010, is now advising shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves. Anna Soubry, another Cameron minister who also lost the party whip over Brexit, is backing Labour, as is Claire Perry O’Neill, who endorses Starmer’s “fact-driven, competent political leadership.” Cameron’s pollster, Andrew Cooper, who wrongly predicted the day before the referendum that the Remain campaign would win by more than 10 points, has joined them. Perhaps he’s called it correctly this time

George Osborne, Cameron’s former chancellor, is by no means a defector but still knows which way the wind is blowing. He’s anointed Reeves as the “heir to Cameron-Osborne”, just as Cameron-Osborne once claimed to be heirs to Blair. Reeves has accepted innovations championed by Osborne, including austere fiscal rules, oversight of fiscal policy the Office of Budget Responsibility and lower levels of corporation tax. 

Osborne’s tease has provoked the Tory Party’s right wingers, as he doubtless intended. Their leading lights already argue that their prime minister has been feeble on immigration, lowering taxes and standing up to interfering European judges. The Tory house magazine, the Spectator, denounces “Starmakism,” a blend of policies adopted by both Sunak and Starmer.

By switching sides, opportunistic politicians are wholly in tune with the voters. Fifty years ago, around an eighth of British voters switched parties between elections. According to Edward Fieldhouse, a political scientist at  Manchester University, the majority of the electorate were swing voters at the last election; in 2019, Labour had its worst result since 1935. Later this year the pendulum may swing just as violently away from the Tories.

Read also:

© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.

Visited 14 times, 14 visit(s) today

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *