The Tories: fear them, hate them by all means, but be in awe of their genius

with 19 comments

For many Labour supporters who woke up this morning, this is what ‘schadenfreude’ was introduced into the lexicon for. The smell of toast Lib Dem wafted through their windows up and down the country. In the year since Britain fell back under Tory domination, the most passionate vitriol has been reserved for the Lib Dems: it’s the sense many had that, after all, you expect to be screwed by the Tories, but the Lib Dems should really know better.

That’s suited the Tories just fine. They have ingeniously crafted the Lib Dems into human shields, allowing them to absorb rising popular anger at the Government’s onslaught against the welfare state.

The Lib Dems are stuck. If they withdraw from the Government, an election will be held which will wipe them out as a major political force. The Tories know this, and they also know that Labour is completely unprepared – financially as well as politically – for a snap election. With a gun to the Lib Dems’ heads, the party can occasionally squeal in staged attempts to distinguish themselves from their Tory allies – as Paddy Ashdown has done – but they are trapped in power. For a party that has been trapped out of power for such a long time, there is something deeply ironic about the Lib Dem plight.

These results have exposed a lot about the Lib Dems. Their support was always soft and, unlike the Tories and Labour, they have no real identifiable, substantial core vote to speak of. Yes, they functioned as a kind of South West regional party; in the North, they won by posturing to the left of Labour; in the South, they presented themselves as a more acceptable, rational alternative to the Tories. After a year of being allied to the Tories, many of their disgusted Northern erstwhile voters have returned to the Labour fold. Sheffield (the city I was born in) and Stockport (where I grew up) are among those who have kicked the Lib Dems out of office.

In the South, some have gone blue: after all, this Government’s programme is so polarising, if you support it, why not just vote Tory?

And, when the referendum results later show that the Alternative Vote has been rejected – forever, in all likelihood – the total humiliation of the Lib Dems will be confirmed.

It’s difficult to know where this baseless party is headed. It has a habit of splitting, with factions being absorbed by the Conservative Party. That’s what happened to Joseph Chamberlain’s Liberal Unionists in 1912 and the National Liberals after World War II. It’s certainly easy to imagine the likes of Nick Clegg and David Laws eventually defecting to the Tories although, given the plummeting Lib Dem vote, they may end up representing them in the House of Lords.

Protected by the Lib Dems, the Tory vote has remained steady (currently projected at around 35%, or around what they got in the general election a year ago). They’ve even made some gains. In other words, the Tories’ political strategy is working pretty well. Although it was easy to forget when they were languishing in the doldrums under the leaderships of William Hague and Iain Duncan-Smith, the Tories are the most successful political party on Earth. They governed for two thirds of the 20th Century. They don’t just lust for power: they expect it.

It was always comforting to pretend that anger over cuts would end up with the Tories being turfed out of power. But Labour has yet to present any coherent alternative to the Tory agenda. It hasn’t really won back those working-class voters who abandoned it, costing it the election.

It’s of course easy to overstate what has happened in Scotland, where Labour got a kicking at the hands of the SNP. It says more about Iain Gray’s woeful leadership – it seems as though the only substantial policy being offered by Labour was being tough on knife crime – than it does about Labour nationally. I strongly doubt the results would be replicated at a general election, and opinion polls suggest not. The SNP has stitched together a coalition of dedicated nationalists, disillusioned Labour supporters attracted by social democratic aspects of Alex Salmond’s leadership and, particularly in this election, former Lib Dem supporters.

But it does provide a case study of what happens to Labour when it fails to win back its natural supporters. Anyone who thinks that a lurch into hardcore New Labour territory will win Labour voters back from the clutches of the nationalists needs their heads examined.

Labour has made decent inroads in much of England and Wales. There were landslides in cities like Manchester, where it looks as though all other parties have been purged from the council. Those who believe it is not enough progress need to be quickly reminded that the party suffered its second worst result since the fall of Hitler just a year ago. The idea we were ever going to win a landslide after systematically alienating many of our supporters over so many years was always bonkers, no matter how much the Tory press cynically talked it up. And again, people need to be reminded: we lost 4 out of the 5 million voters who went AWOL between 1997 and 2005 under Blair. Blairites must not be allowed to whip up the idea that these are disappointing results in an effort to retreat to a failed New Labour policy agenda.

But, that said, there can be no underestimating just how potent a threat the Tories remain. They are political geniuses who are determined to remain in power at all costs, and unless Labour provides a convincing alternative that wins back its working-class voters, then Cameron’s cabal may well achieve that aim.

Written by Owen Jones

May 6, 2011 at 11:12 am

19 Responses

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  1. I’d go as far to say Labours current hardcore voters are largely made up of those who chose not to work and live off handouts.

    As someone who works all the hours god sends to pay a mortgage and has to live next door to a family who don’t work yet live in the same standard house for free, spending their days drinking, smoking and dealing in black market tobacco i’d never vote labour again until they even try to appeal to my needs and ideals.

    All we get from the local labour party is propeganda leaflets that allude to the tories “taking away your benefits” – they did that many mail shots their budget ran out and they had to resort to word processed A4 paper leaflets.

    We have a very good conservative MP who genuinely works hard for his constituancy and has set up workshops to help people get into work and spends as much time as possible in the town whilst ensuring he is in the top ten MP’s for turning up and voting on issues. He also publishes his expenses on his own website for the world to see.

    Sadly he is being attacked with lies by the condecsending “keep them in the gutter, keep them voting for us” Labour machine.

    Matt Johnson

    May 6, 2011 at 11:37 am

    • “I’d go as far to say Labours current hardcore voters are largely made up of those who chose not to work and live off handouts.”

      I’m sure you would, Matt Johnson, that is because you are stupid.

      As a little help for you, how many people are out of work, how many of them choose not to work, how many people vote Labour? I would like to say ‘do the maths’, but I rather doubt you can.


      May 7, 2011 at 9:35 pm

  2. Turnout in the groups you’ve described is normally incredibly low, with huge swathes not even registered to vote. I’ve spent years canvassing deprived areas of South London, supposed heartlands of Labour’s benefits-for-votes racket – it’s almost impossible to get people out to vote in these areas. In their view politicians of all colours don’t give a damn – so why bother?


    May 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm

  3. @Matt Johnson. Because as we all know, it’s safe to judge the entireity of Britain’s working class on the opinions you have of your neighbours.

    Oscar Power

    May 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm

  4. Where did i say that?

    I could go on forever about my disgust with labour.

    Matt Johnson

    May 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm

  5. btw, i am working class myself.

    Matt Johnson

    May 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm

  6. I agree that Labour is “yet to present any coherent alternative to the Tory agenda”, so why do you support them Owen? Have you considered that other parties out there might better represent you than the ranks of war-mongers, spin-doctors and half-baked, totalitarian gobshites?


    May 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm

  7. er Matt. When did this ‘class’ of ‘scroungers’ you despise appear? It wasn’t there in the 5ts or 6ts or 7ts was it? It appeared with the destruction of industry by the Thatcher govt.


    May 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    • Absoloute garbage, glyn. We have just come out of a boom period where there were jobs for whoever wanted them – it coincided with the emergance of a workshy, lazy, benefit reliant underclass where standards are none existant, as is pride and children are having children that they expect the state to pay for.

      Still blaming Thatcher after 13 years of Labour is a cheap, lazy argument.

      Matt Johnson

      May 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm

      • I think you’ve been reading the Daily Mail too much, Matt, because you’re talking absolute bollocks.

        Job creation was low in the boom because it wasn’t a good boom; it was a quasi-boom based on credit with much of the proceeds of growth being extracted by the financial sector.

        ESA fraud is estimated at 0.5% and ‘work shy’ JSA claimants are estimated at 5%. Overall they probably cost the country little more than a rounding error. If you’re so concerned about the undeserving poor, you should be consistent and be concerned with the undeserving rich who cost the country £1.5 trillion explicitly and far more implicitly.


        May 8, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    • Rubbish PS and thats coming from a working class bloke from Sheffield. Labour is the party of the non working class.

      John Phelan

      May 6, 2011 at 9:30 pm

  8. @Oscar Power

    Aren’t they the non-working class?

    Until Labour realises there is a difference between the working class and a substantial minority, if not the majority, of people on benefits then they won’t be able to solve one of the biggest problem’s this country faces.


    May 6, 2011 at 9:30 pm

  9. I do not work and I live a fair standard of life, although my reason are simple, I was working and had been working for 30 years when I suffered an accident at work. I lost the use of my legs, my bowel and my bladder, I’m now classed as Paraplegic, but lets not kid our selves if an employer wanted to give me a job a real job I’d be back like a shot. I have taken all the help Labour gave, all the help the Tories have given, all the training programs, and guess what not one single employer has given me an interview. I then took the work tasters and have been into Factories, offices, retailers, but once the four weeks tasters are over I have been left go. In my local Teso not a single wheelchair users has been employed, Asda has now laid off all it’s workers with disabilities.

    So OK I can understand people being angry over people who will not work it annoy me as well, but this idea labour or Tory will get people back to work is ridiculous, we have been through this before when JSA came in.

    We need jobs lots of jobs and nobody is making them right now.


    May 7, 2011 at 7:35 am

  10. Now the politics in Wales the biggest winner are the Tories who have go from no seats to well ahead of the liberal plaid into second place, with boundary changes which will come up the Tories could easy become a real concern.

    Scotland has gone and this is a major loss to labour, I think Labour is in serious serious trouble with the loss of Scotland.


    May 7, 2011 at 7:37 am

  11. [...] while there is some truth that the Tories were able to use the Liberals as a ‘shield’ to defect hostility against them, Ipswich Liberals were perfectly capable of pissing off their [...]

  12. Excellent article. But I am not convinced that in most Northern cities there were jobs for the asking during most of the last 15 years. The great Labour boom was great for a minority – mostly white men in the South East – but the working class especially in the North didn’t see many employment opportunities and that is why they were and are on the dole or on the sick.

    Martin Rathfelder

    May 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm

  13. The shit being talked above is another example of Tory genius – reducing civil society to ignorant, petty whinges about neighbours. Everyone must work hard! Make ‘em suffer like I did! Even when… er… there aren’t any jobs.


    May 8, 2011 at 12:25 am

  14. I’ve lived on benefits very happy really for twenty years, mind you to get the benefits I had to lose the use of my legs in an accident, dam it at work as well.

    I also lost the use of my bowel and bladder at the same time, but hell it was worth it to get £38 a week in benefits and now I get the massive total of £96 a week, thats worth the lost of walking shitting or pissing.

    Boom and jobs for everyone, well I was under labour New Deal for cripples and retards, sadly I went on labour Pathways to work being seen by six different so called job providers, they one thing none of them could do was find me a job. Then work fare labour and the Tories plans to force people back to work, I was called in told you will work, I said OK fine, lets go, and they said we will call you, thats four years ago and I’m still waiting for the phone call.

    Then I was told you will need to do four weeks a year on a work training program you will work for benefits, OK no problems lets go, OK we will phone you as soon as we get something, still waiting.

    But for all the Tories are doing to hammer the shit out of me it was nothing to what New labour has done.

    That’s great because all the problems we have now are down basically to Purnells new WCA medical, and the idea that we are all work shy scroungers, to date I’ve written 1480 job applications and I’ve had three replies all negative.

    Did I vote labour at this election my god no, will I vote Labour at the next no way, welfare reforms are labours not the Tories.


    May 8, 2011 at 10:43 am

  15. Great blog, I agree with your observations, despite what right wing commenters and media commentators might say…


    May 9, 2011 at 9:05 am

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