Friday, 27 July 2007

The End of the Tories?

Liberal Burblings have reported that Michael Portillo has stated that the Tories may never win a general election ever again. I didn’t see This Week last night, so I do not know the full context but it is a pretty bold thing to be saying. After all, only a few months ago the Tories were the party with the 9 point lead in the polls and all it takes is a harsh event to occur and the tables are turned. Cameron knows this all too well with the Grammar schools debate that has seen his personal and party rating go in to free fall in the polls. The “Brown bounce” has been more of quantum leap for Labour and all of a sudden people are talking about a snap election either this year or by next summer to capitalise on the polls. While I think it is alarmist to suggest the Tories will never win an election ever again, I do think the Tories are in their worst position they have been in – ever.

This may be surprising to some. After all, it is only a few bad polls and surely they have had harder time during the poll tax or IDS years? Well maybe, but there was always time for them to recover in those days and there were still options on the table. Right now the Tories are running out of options and when Cameron goes they may well have none left. This week William Hill opened a book on the next Tory leader. It makes worrying reading for the Tories:

W Hague 9/4

D Davis 5/1

G Osborne 10/1

A Lansley 10/1

L Fox 12/1

A Duncan 12/1

N Herbert 14/1

T Villiers 16/1

Their favourite is a man who has tried and failed. Many believe Hague was given an impossible task and his time came too early. I back that theory up – but it is going to be very hard to give him his time again. He will be cannon fodder to the Labour front bench and the media. You can count out Osborne – to much like Cameron. Davis is probably the best bet, but again may not have much more to offer than Cameron and has tried and failed at winning his party over too many times. Alan Duncan is a poor man’s Boris – too much interest in being a personality but just not as good at it as Boris. Fox would be seen as going back to the Old Conservatives – may please the right of the party, but the old factions would remain. Herbert and Villiers would have just about everyone going – who? The only other credible option to me would be Michael Gove and he could well be the absolute last option for the Tories. An intellect who would not be associated with the failures of the past. He too would really be up against it though with a party that has no idea what it stands for and has more fault lines running through waiting to split than the San Andreas.

The underlying problem of the party isn’t so much who leads them, but the perception that no one can lead them. There appears to be more difference between Cameron and the right of party and the grassroots than there is between himself and the government. If they haven’t sorted out the fundamentals of the party by now, when ever will they? Even the Labour party in its darkest days when threatened with the SDLP pushing them as the third party recovered more quickly than the Tories have.

Just look at the ICM polls going back to 1997:

In the 1997 election Labour won their landslide victory – look at the share of the vote:

Con - 31.4%

Lab - 44.4%

Lib Dem - 17.2%

A year later, Hague was in charge and things got worse –

Con - 29%

Lab - 50%

Lib Dem – 16%

By 1999, they had recovered a little but were still being portrayed as a no hoper party:

Con - 32%

Lab - 45%

Lib Dem - 16%

In 2001, they lost their second straight election with the following share:

Con - 32.7%

Lab - 42.0%

Lib Dem - 18.8%

This heralded the IDS years, seen by most as the lowest point in Tory history. Yet a year after the 2001 election, the polls were very familiar –

Con - 32%

Lab - 42%

Lib Dem - 20%

In 2005 the Tories lost their third straight election under Howard. This was enough to make him resign:

Con - 33.2%

Lab - 36.2%

Lib Dem - 22.6%

And yet today’s polls actually make worse reading for the Tories than it did back then. And it is widely perceived that not only does the election system favour labour, but the polls between elections favour the opposition party.

This may be just a slightly long winded way of saying the Tories are flat lining. They have gone virtually nowhere in 10 years and have used up nearly all their options. It appears they are pinning their only hopes on an economic disaster for the country and that it completely discredits Brown and the government rather like it did Major back in the early 1990s. This having exhausted all the change of leadership and political spectrum positioning options.

Ben Brogan suggests that the Tories have been taken by surprise by Brown's "drip-drip of wheezes designed to buy off critics, such as the successive u-turns on casinos, cannabis and 24-hour drinking" - but why on earth have they? The 100 days programme was well known for months and months. The Tories appear to have no plan to counter this. Brown and his team appear to be working much, much harder than the Tories right now and it is showing in the polls.

Getting rid of Cameron can not be the answer - because it only narrows down the options even more and the same difficult questions remain. Cameron and his front bench really need to hold their nerve now. His party need to stop falling apart every time there is a hint of bad news in the press and a few of his team need to stand up and be counted rather than sulking in the corner. If Cameron doesn’t use this summer break to really get things moving again for October it may well be the last chance saloon for the Tories for a long, long time.

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