Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Why decent Tories should plan for the future

For the first time in an increasingly-lengthy life, I am beginning to experience sympathy for some parts of the Conservative Party.  Whatever one's personal beliefs the world would be a much more boring place were it to be a mirror-image, uncritical and unchallenged.  Two months ago, I thought that the Tory party's internal wrangling around the European referendum could be the greatest challenge to its intellectual and political cohesion in the best part of 150 years.  Now I am convinced that this is the case.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the personal venom and toxicity with which the Leave campaign have conducted their manoeuvrings should make it impossible for the legitimate centre-right to have anything to do with them.  With the hopeful outcome of a reasonably-decisive Remain vote, there is a challenge for the Tories to regenerate as a party where the fringe and the ultra-right are either marginalised, slapped down or excluded.  Some may  do this for themselves - on the basis of the evidence to date they cannot accept that there are sincerely-held and evidence-based positions that can be held without the need for personal abuse.

The obloquy heaped on Cameron and the majority, let it not be forgotten, of his Cabinet would, were it to be replicated within Corbyn's Labour, be front-page news around leadership coup.  The diluted Blairite Progress campaign, with its spearhead of such luminaries as Yvette Cooper, is hardly a match on the centre-left for the parade of dysfunctional lunacy that can be identified on the far right: Gove, Patel, Duncan Smith, Lawson, Lamont, Minford, Grayling all spring to mind before you get to the extreme cesspool in which Johnson and his cronies inhabit.

Even without the referendum, there should be pause for thought in the Tory party around how it conducts itself.  Cameron's aim was to detoxify the brand - a technique which is now at its most successful in Scotland.  Contrast this with the odious and despicable campaign fought in London by and on behalf of Goldsmith, who applied an ever more amoral universe that now underpins the lunatic, sociopathic outbursts of his predecessor as Tory candidate.  The relegitimisation of a party fighting on the centre-right in Scotland would have been all the more motivational had it not been eclipsed by a racist, negative campaign which, fortunately, demonstrated that the electorate's response to dog-whistles is not invariably that of a somewhat retarded poodle.

The scope for Tory revival will largely be defined by the referendum outcome, and the potential for political realignment elsewhere.  A Tory schism, with the diehards and the senile stomping off into an electoral dance of death with the vestigial Kippers, could, whatever the effects of boundary changes, precipitate the kind of right-wing meltdown that afflicted Labour in 1983.  Perhaps the more far-sighted on the centre-right will then realise that an electoral system designed for two parties will produce ever more perverse and illegitimate results.

There is no clear direction for post-referendum politics, whatever the outcome.  Cameron will, one hopes, be emboldened to settle scores with the kind of ruthlessness that his internal critics are now reserving for him.  Excluding the destabilising, selfish and hypocritical from the mainstream should be the objective of all those who want to avoid the continued stigmatising of all Tories as heartless grasping fools.  I appreciate that some readers may disagree that this is a desirable outcome, but debating with rational humans is preferable to attempting to rebut and discredit the hard right whose entitlement is matched only by their ignorance.

A shift of a right-wing party back towards the centre can only be welcomed, if only to refocus politics.  For those of us of a social liberal persuasion it is a precondition for proper dialogue, especially for those of us who also consider that rolling back pseudo-liberal economic cargo cults is an even more important component of the future political landscape, where there is room to discuss issues from a long-term, environmentally- and socially-sustainable standpoint.  If the lunatics capture the Tories, then the margins become the party's fate.  Extremism is already on the march - there is a potential chance for those Tories who are their party's electoral mainstream to at least reclaim the right to dialogue.

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