Now is an opportune time to consider the condition and prospects of the Conservative Party. Anyone who aspires to do this in any remotely objective way must first of all confront – and dismiss – the official narrative.
According to that narrative – and to the casual observer it appears persuasive and supported by the facts – the Tories are on a roll. Have they not just recently confounded the pollsters by winning a landslide election victory and securing an overall majority? Are they not now the Government, with unchallengeable authority to take the country in whatever direction they wish?
Er – up to a point, Lord Copper. Political history has shown that, very often, the apparent situation is very different from the reality. So, let us take a closer look at the reality that lies behind this superficial Conservative hegemony. In fact it is an illusion.
The recent election victory, although it delivered power in the short term to the Tories, was largely a mirage. David Cameron did not win a sweeping victory through the appeal of his political message, rather he was elected by default as the lesser of two evils, to see off Red Ed Miliband and his fundamentalist Kinnockian socialists. In the official Tory narrative this humbling reality is ignored. The script says the Conservative Party, re-energised by modernisation and with a tsunami of votes, spearheaded by a grateful homosexual community (2.5 per cent of the electorate) rewarding the Tories for their imposition of same-sex marriage, swept triumphantly to power.
In the real world, the Tories, deserted by their core vote, gained the grudging support of 36.9 per cent of those voting and scraped a fragile 12-seat majority. Their overall increase in support was a majestic 0.8 per cent over Dave’s dismal performance against Gordon Brown in 2010. If Conservative ministers and last-ditch loyalists want to dance in the streets to celebrate that travesty, let them indulge their delusions. But anyone of a thoughtful disposition may take a less sanguine view of the political prospects of The Party We Love.
How secure is a 12-seat majority? Does anyone recall the travails of John Major with a majority of 21 seats? Wafer-thin majorities have a habit of melting like snow. By-elections, defections and that most menacing of political developments – “Events, dear boy” – take a remorseless toll of insecure administrations. More ominous than that is the political agenda.
What is, by universal consent, the most toxic issue for the Tories? Europe, is the answer. And what is the overwhelmingly dominant controversy shaping British politics over the next five years? Europe. But surely even so sensitive an issue can be deftly navigated by a prime minister with superlative political skills? Possibly, but his name is not Dave.
The farcical tantrums, quickly negated by humiliating U-turns, over David Cameron’s threats to sack all ministers opposed to continuing EU membership do not suggest a firm hand on the tiller. In the wider Conservative Party, even the Tory-supporting newspapers estimate there is a core of around 100 Eurosceptic MPs. Do you remember the hubristic celebrations in the Torygraph in the days after 7 May, the claims that Cameron now enjoyed a towering authority as the man who had led the Tories to majority government for the first time since 1992?
No prime minister with a 12-seat majority and a mandate from less than 37 per cent of the electorate enjoys any serious authority at all. In the light of that reality, claims by Boris Johnson that Dave is “making the running in Europe” sound more than usually demented, even by the standards of that particular commentator.
Let’s look at the reality. David Cameron is an irredeemable Europhile. He has no intention of leaving the EU, under any provocation whatsoever – the dogs in the streets of Brussels know it. Any EU negotiations conducted by him are a charade.
How much clout does a head of government irrevocably committed to EU membership have when asking Brussels for concessions? None whatsoever. How many Eurocrats will quail before the ultimatum “Give me what I ask or I’ll – I’ll – shut up and remain an obedient vassal of the EUSSR?
Even relatively cosmetic reforms to Britain’s situation in the EU could not be achieved without treaty changes and these are not on the cards. The EU constitution is so constructed that the only means by which Britain could negotiate serious change is by announcing its intention of leaving and inviting serious offers of concessions. Can anyone imagine Dave doing that?
While the Euro magnates toy with him – an early example is Angela Merkel and her finance minister playing nice cop/nasty cop with Dave’s pathetic requests – the evil empire will remain immovable. If they thought there was the faintest chance of Britain leaving the EU the Brussels hoods, who are in a sweat at the prospect of basket-case Greece leaving just the Eurozone, would offer Britain the Moon.
Instead, they will make a cosmetic concession to Dave at the eleventh hour, he will have his Neville Chamberlain “Hendon moment”, brandishing a worthless scrap of paper, and a travesty referendum with mega resources behind the Yes campaign will be rushed through. Bad news for Britain, yes – but it will finally break the back of the moribund Conservative Party.