The backlash to the Labour gains in the council elections seems to be continuing. Some such as William Hague have tired to write the election results off as a typical mid term result (and to be fair although good for Labour they were not a Tory melt down) but others are more concerned. The results have fed into the narrative of the omnishambles and the fear appears to be amongst Tory MPs that a vicious circle of increasing disaster, increasing incompetence and worsening electoral fortunes will spiral down into a self fulfilling prophecy of defeat. Following 13 years of Labour rule the Conservatives seem to be staring at a Labour return after only one term of Conservative power and that only in coalition with the despised Liberal Democrats.
Whilst the apparent Tory panic may well be overplayed, there is a definite problem with even Daily Telegraph columnists starting to regard an Ed Milliband premiership as a possibility. The solution proposed by many in the Tory party may or may not be convincing. Cameron’s answer, whilst he claims to understand the problem, seems pretty much “There is no Plan B.”
Other Tory voices seem to be focusing on a more socially conservative agenda. Lords reform and Gay marriage seeming to be the two main targets. The other components of the “Alternative Queen’s Speech” are also broadly socially and economically conservative.
The claim is that such social conservatism is popular but there is a potential problem in that the most successful conservative last week was Boris Johnston who is anything but socially conservative. Conservative Home does seem to recognise this fact but it is a little at odds with the assertions of the assorted opponents of gay marriage et al.
The central problem is that voters throughout Europe seem to be rejecting austerity and there is a definite economic theorem that excess austerity actually inhibits growth and as such results in worse deficits due to the increase in borrowing needed for social security payments and reduced tax revenues from a weaker economy. British voters seem to be relatively similar to their continental counterparts and appear both more economically left wing and socially right wing as compared to the coalition.
Squaring that circle and moving towards the views of the median British voter seems a particular problem for the current Conservative Party, supposedly detoxified as it was by adopting socially liberal policies whilst maintaining a potentially electorally toxic neoliberal economic agenda. The simple fact is that the Tories are not espousing policies which resonate with the public. Their election victory of two years ago looks more and more like the result of disenchantment with Labour than a wholesale adoption of Cameron’s political ideals. These ideals are in danger of becoming ever more toxic as austerity continues to bite, the rich get richer and everyone else poorer and the irrelevant socially liberal or libertarian values of some of the wealthy metropolitan chattering classes seem to be given excess and increasing weight.
Although it might be difficult ideologically for Cameron’s inner circle eith a little thought it is possible that some suitable policies could be adopted. Quietly downplaying gay marriage and allowing Lords reform to die might assuage the socially conservative both in the Tory Party and in the country at large. In addition bringing forward national investment and infrastructure projects would help. The H2S high speed rail links may be unpopular with Tory grassroots but other rail projects might be useful especially if they helped lead to a reduction in the cost of rail transport; improved roads and funding (as mentioned in the Alternative Queen’s Speech) would be an economic stimulus with potential long term benefits.
A further clever way of spending money in a fashion which is acceptable to social conservatives is always defence spending. The benefits of Defence spending are often overlooked: they provide jobs in the armed forces but also high tech jobs in defence contracting industries as well as potential export markets. Although an increase in Defence Spending would represent a U turn from Cameron it is the sort of U turn which Labour (and the Liberal Democrats and nay saying Conservatives) would find difficult to argue against. It can always be excused as preparing for future eventualities and such like: It should be remembered that two of the aircraft carriers (Yorktown and Enterprise) which brought victory at Midway were built by Roosevelt not out of defence spending but as part of the New Deal.
The problem with a move socially to the right and economically to the left, no matter how much closer it is to the median position of British public opinion, is that is would be a move exactly opposite to the position of the Conservatives coalition partners in the Liberal Democrats. Most of whom are socially very liberal but economically remarkably right wing. That said the Liberal Democrats are in so much trouble electorally that the prospect of Nick Clegg actually destroying the current government is practically inconceivable. Very few people play Russian Roulette with five of the six chambers loaded which is effectively what a general election would be for Liberal Democrat MPs at the moment.
The final irony in the current state of the political parties is that if one added the Liberal Democrat to the Conservative vote it would be ahead of Labour. It feels nothing like that for either the Tories or the Liberal Democrats but if the Liberal Democrat MPs thought about it their best chance of personal electoral survival would be to accept all the medicine the Tories give them and try to become a National Liberal Party standing without Conservative opposition. That would annihilate the Liberal party and will never happen but electoral annihilation has looked the most likely prospect for Liberal Democrat MPs ever since Clegg sold Cameron his political soul.