Wednesday, 6 March 2013
What are the Tories up to?
It has got to be asked - what is the Conservative strategy? How do they plan to stay in government after May 2015? If they did not realize it before, they must now after the Eastleigh by-election, that they are doomed if they stay on the current course. The Eastleigh results were, approximately and effectively, Lib Dems 13,000 votes (and winner), UKIP 11,000 (2nd place) and Cons 10,000 (3rd place). The Lib Dems won the election despite their party being embroiled in two simultaneous scandals: the Chris Huhne perversion of justice case, and the Lord Rennard sexual allegations. Either of these should have locked them out of Eastleigh, but they squeaked in. The reason is obvious from the numbers. The right-wing, Eurosceptic vote was split close to 50/50 between the Tories and UKIP. Add their two results together and you get an easy victory for a theoretical Con-UKIP candidate. So UKIP are currently playing the same role now that the Lib Dems played in the 1980s and 1990s. They are keeping the Tories out just like the Lib Dems (an offshoot of the Labour party) kept Labout out back then. The Conservative High Command know this and you would have thought they would formulate a clear strategy to deal with the situation. But they have not. Cameron has tried a couple of feeble initiatives but got no traction. He promised an EU membership referendum, but not for ages. And he is looking at denying Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants immediate access to benefits when they acquire the right to work in the UK next year. Neither of these things is buying him votes because people just do not believe he will deliver. He promised a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and it never happened. Why would he deliver on these other things? We are left with two possibilities. First, the Conservatives are currently caught like rabbits in the headlights, unable to do anything of consequence, or second, they genuinely do not want to win the next general election. This second option may seem unlikely, but think on. They have never really behaved like a party that wanted to govern for the long term. When they came to power in 2010 they could have used their honeymoon period to overhaul radically our national situation. For a year or so they could have blamed everything bad on the previous Labour government and been believed. They could have stopped the borrowing, balanced the budget, and radically cut the size of the public sector. Instead they have carried on borrowing and only made some half-hearted in-roads into the giant kleptocracy that is local and central government. They have kept interest rates ridiculously low and carried on the quantitative easing programme. As a result inflation is still over target, and has been for all their period in office and it looks likely that by 2015 they will have doubled the £700bn national debt they inherited. Certainly it is over one trillion pounds now. The Tory attitude has largely been: do nothing radical, do not fix any of the major problems, just keep the old banger on the road until we can hand it back to Labour and they can take the blame when it finally dies. At the time of the last general election the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, injudiciously commented that whoever won the election would be out of office for a generation. By this he meant that the medicine the country needed is so bitter that whoever administered it would pay a high political cost. The Tories seem to have taken this to heart and have decided that it is not going to be them who pour the vile liquid down our throats. They have taken the view that Labour can come back and take the blame for what they did. This, though, may not sit well with the Tory backbenchers. They do not mind so much being kicked out of government (frankly opposition is easier) but they would mind losing their seats. Seats mean salary, and expenses and pensions - these are the things they do care about. If it looks like the government's fatalistic attitude is going to cost a lot of seats then there will be rebellion in the ranks. There has been no Tory backlash from missing the open goal in Eastleigh yet. They are waiting. Specifically they are waiting for March 20th, when George Osborne will deliver his next budget. The reaction to this budget will be the trigger for action, or inaction. Last year's budget was called an "omnishambles". This year Osbrown has to do better. If he does not he becomes vulnerable, and if he goes (Theresa May has already ordered her Economics for Dummies) then the Prime Minister becomes a lame duck in the cross-hairs. The Tory herd may decide that a different leader, one with better Eurosceptic credentials, would save them more seats, even if he cannot actually win them the next general election. This dashing new leader would need to be put in office early enough to lure back the UKIP defectors but late enough not to have time to do any real damage to the country; mid-2014 would probably be about right.