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Artillery Row

The Conservatives need a clear-out

Failed advisers and politicians have to be removed

Did you know that you can only call it a gaffe if it’s made in the CCHQ region of Westminster? Otherwise, you have to call it a sparkling cock-up. 

With the Conservative Party’s defeat looking increasingly certain, speculation in Westminster is running rife as to what the future of the party might look like. Already, like vultures circling the corpse of a wounded buffalo, the usual suspects from the murky world of Conservative politics are beginning to jostle for position. Presumptive leadership contenders — at least, those who feel that they will confidently be able to hold onto their seats — are beginning to emerge from the woodwork, quietly building campaign teams and bargaining for endorsements. 

Whoever comes out on top, it looks like the Conservative Party is set to repeat the same mistakes which condemned it to this probable landslide defeat. 

Of course, the principal reasons for the party’s incoming rout are political. The Conservative Party has overseen record levels of inward migration and presided over a decade and a half of economic stagnation, resulting in lethargic wage growth and crumbling public services. It has failed to grapple with the Blairite institutional state that is slowly strangling the country to death, and is now being punished for its inability to govern. 

However, surface-level political analysis fails to tell the whole story — at the root of these political failures lies a series of operational and attitudinal deficiencies. 

Since at least David Cameron’s time as leader, the party has been dominated by people-pleasing vote maximisers, who have preferred to avoid trade-offs in favour of “win-win” options which aim to please everybody. Where it has been forced to make trade-offs, the party has almost always preferred to pander to narrow but reliable demographics, instead of recognising the opportunity that new voters present. This is all made far worse by a surface-level understanding of broad-brush ideas like “the red wall”, which serve only to caricature large swathes of the country. 

The fruits of this particular labour are plain to see. By refusing to commit to a particular strategy, the party has alienated both its traditional liberal conservative base and the Brexit-backing populists who supported the party in 2019. By pandering to over-65s, it has lost any and all goodwill that it might have had with young voters, alienating the next generation for decades to come – and yet still, some pensioners loudly insist that the Conservatives have not done enough to win their support. 

This people-pleasing instinct isn’t just a political affliction either — it haunts the party’s approach to policy. Rather than making hard decisions on behalf of its voters, the party has allowed itself to be swayed by the narrow opinions of “friendly” lobby journalists, pollsters, and “expert advisers”, who together form the centre-right consensus. We have this group to thank for thought-terminating cliches such as “elections are won from the centre” and “you can’t do that, it’s a bad look”. Stray too far from this orthodoxy, and you can expect to see yourself exiled from the dinner party circuit, a fate worse than death for the middle-class strivers that now occupy the upper rungs of the Conservative Party. All of this has a chilling effect on the willingness of Conservative politicians to make hard calls at a time when our country sorely needs politicians with the strength of will to do so. 

every single person responsible for the past fourteen years of failure will need to be replaced

The list of failures goes on. Understanding of the major structural problems facing the country is unbelievably poor, even at the highest echelons. The party has been spectacularly poor at promoting talent, with the current crop of candidates composed mostly of uninspiring local councillors and inoffensive Blairite SpAds. The Conservative establishment, meanwhile, has collectively watched too many episodes of The West Wing, and has thus become obsessed with the idea of “politics” (read: performative scheming). These people spend their time backbiting, backstabbing, and spreading dubious sexual gossip about one another, while governance is left to a small handful of committed but isolated weirdos. 

If the Conservative Party ever wants to govern again, every single person responsible for the past fourteen years of failure will need to be replaced. Remember, these are the sensible, grown-up experts who assured us that Brexit would put a stop to concerns about immigration and that Rishi Sunak was the competent, clever operator needed to steer the party — and the country — back from the brink. Many of the most senior culprits will attempt to rebrand themselves as experienced party grandees, taking on cushy new jobs in the world of journalism or think-tanking. 

If Conservatives are serious about winning in a post-Sunak world, they must not be allowed to do so. The advisers and politicians who thoughtlessly presided over a decade and a half of national decline must be cleared out, and their chattering friends in journalism must be put out to pasture. 

And finally, most importantly, the rotten, sclerotic structure which has overseen a farcical election campaign from start to finish must be rebuilt from the ground up. A chairman responsible for a comedy of errors, a campaign team which has already run out of money for social media ads, and a party infrastructure which failed to select most of its candidates until the eleventh hour — all must go, to be replaced by talented, ruthless professionals who understand the kind of sweeping reform that our country needs. CCHQ delenda est. 

Yet, like a dog returning to its vomit, I expect that the Conservative establishment will continue to promote the same tired old figures, who prefer gossip to governance and who have little to show for their time in power. Why break the habit of a lifetime? It’s not as if the future of the country is at stake.

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