So two weeks, two very difference conferences. What Labour and Tory parties have in common is that they both have newly chosen leaders. Labour’s by-election from the mass ranks of the party (twice) and the Tory’s by ‘acclamation’ once (if that’s the term for it).
If there is one significant difference between the two, it is that Labour spent its whole conference talking to and arguing amongst itself whilst the Tories were busy messaging the nation at large.
Corbyn’s speech was hailed as a massive improvement from the year before, May set about showing the Corbynites a genuine pair of Red Tory heels, with promises (albeit one she may struggle to keep) to expand the role of the state.
She is the first Tory leader to address the real problem that faced the Conservative party, ie once you’ve sold off everything you can, what exactly do you do with the state you’re elected to run?
May-ism is not yet a thing, but Duncan Weldon gives a decent summary of what it might turn out to be. It’s statist, rather than internationalist or libertarian (who’ve had a good run in the Tory party since Margaret Thatcher’s day).
And it’s anti-outsider. This should not surprise anyone who’s watched her work at the Home Office. Between herself and Amber Rudd, they’ve been fighting a long (but ultimately losing) campaign to bring immigration numbers down.
This has come close to freaking a few good men out, not least the including the acute Scots commentator Alex Massie. He rightly argues that this is a reverse of the modernising mores of David Cameron.
But in fact it’s less a move against foreigners per se, so much as a push back against a process that has weighted the political trilemma heavily in favour of globalisation and away from democracy and sovereignty.
One of the things May’s Tories have been doing since the referendum is to try to dig in and figure what the result actually meant. This paper (PDF) from the Legatum Institute and the Centre for Social Justice, gives some clues to May’s turn.:
There’s the economic profiling of Leavers and Remainers:
And how the issues cut through at the early part of the pre-campaign and at the end:
Two out of three of the top issues named feed straight into the Leave campaign, but the very top one was cited almost exclusively by Remainers. Cameron’s broad coalition which won the Tories back sole power for the first time since 1992 was split either side.
In the report Rick Nye of Populus wrote:
…if there is one thing that unites many of those who voted for Britain to leave the EU with a large number of those who voted to remain—the graduates with the school-leavers, the young and the old and the socially liberal with the more socially conservative—it is likely to be this: that some of the human and environmental excesses of globalisation, the conduct of some businesses and business leaders, and the raw deal that some markets give consumers are no longer acceptable.
The ends do not always justify the means, particularly when a sizeable proportion of the population feel they have not shared in the proceeds. The limits of government established under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, broadly accepted by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and latterly put on a more secure financial footing under David Cameron, are about to be tested by a prime minister who has pledged to be tough in negotiating Brexit but also tough on the causes of Brexit.
In terms of realpolitik, Brexit accompanied by an apparent turn away from the markets and towards public sector activism should help the Conservatives squeeze UKIP further in their own heartlands. Rafael Behr noted that some Tory strategists
Rafael Behr noted a few days back that some Tory strategists believe that UKIP is a gateway drug for getting Labour voters to come fully across to voting Tory. This looks like a policy calculated to encourage such moves in the north and midlands of England.
After the events of the last few days in UKIP (meltdown hardly seems appropriate given the potentially tragic events in Strasbourg this morning), and the general absence of an fractured Labour party, that territory appears more open than ever.
Of course, it is all open to risk, not least as James Kirkup argues in the Telegraph, in alienating their constant companions since the Heath era, aka Big Business:
The immigration agenda is a particular worry for business. It’s striking how some Tory MPs are happy to criticise big firms for employing migrants, accusing them of profiting from open borders – is if making a profit was a bad thing for business to do. Amber Rudd’s daft talk of naming and shaming firms who employ many immigrants is a case in point.
Mrs May is calculating that she won’t lose votes by clashing with business, and that with Mr Corbyn running Labour business has nowhere else to go. She may be right, but she’s still taking a risk here – especially if disgruntled business leaders make common cause with someone like Mr Osborne over an issue like Brexit.[Emphasis added]
Put another way, business now has nowhere else to go, but to back her in whatever deal she strikes with Europe. Hard Brexit, or no hard Brexit, it’s too early to say. But access to the single market will almost certainly come with the usual terms and conditions.
Reflating the state may be the price she and her whiggish Tory companions may have to pay to get as oft compromise over the line.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty