A Death Blow To The Tory Party?


One feels the stomach lurch a little if one remains a British conservative. From the heady days of the 1980s and even 1990s - eighteen years of continuous Tory rule - we have now had thirteen years of Labour, three elections in which the ghost of Thatcherism was revived with ever decreasing effect, then a major rebranding and personable, decent new leader with sane, centrist policies ... the end result is 36 percent. And that barely more than a third of the vote - and no seats in Scotland - comes after one of the worst recessions in memory, and one of the least agreeable prime ministers in modern times.

Or to put it another way: 63 percent of Britons did not want a Tory government after 13 years of Labour. That's the logic behind Gordon Brown's maneuver today. He's gambling that on most issues, the Liberal Democrats are actually closer to Blairite liberalism than Cameroonian conservatism. Get rid of the Brown stigma and the natural alliance has time to form. There's more as well of course: judging whether getting into government right now would in fact be fatal to any party, given the country's finances; personal pique; and the entire question of electoral reform.

But the latter is the real issue now. The Liberals fumbled their last chance for electoral reform in the 1970s. One senses they cannot fail to use their leverage for it now. If the result of the bargaining after this election is proportional representation in one form or another, there will never be a majority Conservative government in Britain again. There won't be a Labour majority government either, but given the deep left-liberal majority in Britain, coalition politics will move Britain indelibly leftward. Remember that Thatcher never won anything close to a majority of the popular vote - she kept winning because the left split and the electoral system allowed her to divide and rule. But what happens when the Tories can only divide and compromise?

That's why one senses an epochal shift here. David Cameron has an agonizing choice to make - try for a minority government that will make all the tough and right decisions and get pummeled at the polls in six months; try to get an agreement with the Liberals without p.r.; fail to get a deal on p.r. and have Labour make it instead and form a short-term government with the Liberals and smaller parties and try again for a victory in a few months before p.r. can be installed; or risk allowing Labour and the Liberals to stitch up the system for the center-left for the indefinite future while in government together. I don't know the inside details - no one seems to - but I'd almost rather hand this poisoned chalice to Clegg and Miliband and hope for the best in a few months' time.

Still, this is a nerve-wracking time for Tories. The consequences of these nail-biting days are not just about who will govern Britain for the next six months or five years. The consequences are the very structure of British politics for a generation. Expecting a conservative revival, we may be witnessing a "progressive" game-changer.

(Photo: William Hague, the Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary, addresses media outside the Houses of Parliament on May 10, 2010 in London, England. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced that he is to stand down as Prime Minister and Labour Party leader. He also said that negotiations with the Liberal Democrats are taking place to try and form a coalition government. By Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)