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Get ready for opposition

The bright side of a Tory loss

Artillery Row

In 2010, the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull sent ash clouds drifting across Europe. The Smolensk air disaster killed much of the government of Poland. WikiLeaks released thousands of documents concerning the Iraq War. Lady Gaga’s first album came out.

David Cameron became Prime Minister of the UK.

The Conservatives have been in power ever since. Weird to think about, isn’t it? Someone who was born in May 2010 will soon be a teenager.

For the past twelve years, right-wing commentators — Peter Hitchens aside — have been commentating with one eye on government. Even if we did not like the government — and many of us didn’t — we thought there was at least some glimmer of a chance that we could nudge it in the right direction. If only Dominic Cummings sees this … If only Kemi Badenoch becomes PM … If only … 

There is also a chance that aliens will land on Earth tomorrow

If that chance ever existed even in a small and pathetic way, it is about to be ground under the boot of Labour governance. Alright, there is a chance that the Conservatives will win the next election. There is also a chance that aliens will land on Earth tomorrow morning, and that I will be selected as the next editor of the New York Times.

The Conservatives are about 20 per cent behind Labour in the polls. None of this is attributable to the accomplishments of Keir Starmer — a man who could and probably should go on holiday for the next year or so and allow the Conservatives to self-destruct. It is entirely because the Conservatives have promised so much and achieved so little.

Check out the anti-Labour lines of attack that the Tories are pushing out. “11 rebrands, 0 new ideas,” sneers one. Good one! It could just as easily describe the party of “the big society”, “levelling up”, “the anti-growth coalition” et cetera. The Conservatives have had more rebrands than a mid-noughties indie band desperately trying to maintain its crusty foothold in cultural relevance. Making fun of Labour on those grounds is insane.

Another online attack warns that with Starmer in government we will have uncontrolled immigration, high debt and soft sentences. Er — in comparison to what? Do they know which country they’ve been governing? Do they remember which party they are? I have no doubt that all of these things will be more true under Keir Starmer — but if a terrible boss warns you that your next one might be worse, it’s only human to tell them where to stick it.

Still, I think it is uncontroversial to say that in policy terms a Labour government will be worse for people who are loosely aligned with the right than a Conservative one. Mismanaging energy security? Restricting speech online? Promoting grievance mongers? Everything bad that the Conservatives have been enthusiastic about doing, Labour will do gleefully. 

Is there room for optimism?

A quick plunge into political irrelevance might sober them up

To expect the Tories to sort themselves out in opposition might be naive. After all, the Conservatives were in government for eighteen years between 1979 and 1997. Once New Labour took power, they fell into a bog of ineffectual confusion that drowned the careers of William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard (remember him?). Granted, Keir Starmer faces far more difficult conditions than Tony Blair — and for all I loathe the Blair creature, he was a far more talented politician. It still seems improbable that voters will forget who was in power as those conditions emerged.

For activists, commentators and artists broadly on the right, though, being freed from the delusion of power might be healthful. No longer need they squander time and energy imagining that they might reach the ear of government. No longer need they jump onto the roller coaster rides of optimism and despair that followed Brexit or the 2019 election of Boris Johnson. A quick plunge into the icy waters of complete political irrelevance might sober them up.

Losing their (at least theoretical) association with the ruling party might give right-leaning thinkers and institutions a more coherent attitude towards themselves and their goals. They may become more explicitly oppositional, while also able to imagine positive ambitions without having to twist themselves into political pretzels in an effort to squeeze them through Westminster. Of course, ambitions are nothing without some amount of power — but people have to be worthy of power to put it to effective use.

Finally, a Labour government will be very, very funny. We’ll enjoy Keir Starmer frantically attempting to make sense of his little bag of contradictions. We’ll eat popcorn as the Corbynites feud with the New Labour nostalgists. We’ll watch MPs who can barely spell “policy” do policy (of course, that’s nothing new but it will be fun to have a different cast of characters). This might be small consolation, but what is life without morbid comedy?

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