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The Tories should aim to lose in 2024

Retreat to victory!

Artillery Row

Three years on from winning its historic landslide, the Conservative Party seems at a loss. With Brexit done and its charismatic leader ousted by bland technocrats, the party faithful appear unsure what exactly it’s meant to stand for. Simple solutions to the border crisis remain vetoed by a strong liberal block within the parliamentary party, with the PM’s latest please-all fudge unlikely to deliver any time soon. Record levels of legal immigration suggest the party leadership is uninterested in the issue. Reforms which might have brought homeownership within reach of the masses have been blocked by a cabal of shire MPs. Extremely costly green energy policies may draw fiery opposition from the backbenches and membership, but the Government is unwilling to admit the folly of a decade of investment. Hands tied, Rishi Sunak’s newly-announced crusade on laughing gas, vapes and bad tenants appears unlikely to re-energise the base. Overall, internal deadlock has rendered the Party incapable of presenting a coherent narrative to voters, or itself. 

Tory readers needn’t feel blue, for there is an easy route out of this existential despair: lose the 2024 general election. 

The Tories can slip from office and happily ride the wave of public outrage

Hear me out. Whoever walks into No.10 in 2024 is in for a rough five years. The primary reason for this is the ticking time bomb that is UK energy policy. For over a decade, the UK has been replacing reliable gas and coal power stations with wind installations of randomised output. Resultantly, dispatchable generation (that is, the energy we can generate on demand) is now below peak demand and set to fall further. Indeed, a recent study suggests we’ll have only 85 per cent of what we need by 2027. The Government’s energy security strategy relied on building undersea cables which allow Britain to feed off other countries’ power stations without their counting towards our territorial carbon emissions. It seemed like a good idea, until it transpired everyone else had the same plan. Last summer, London was spared blackouts by Belgian nuclear power plants — which have since been shut down. This February, France refused a request to support the UK, as it was likewise verging on system failure (in the end, the UK’s soon-to-be-bulldozed coal stations saved the day). Sniffing a pyramid scheme, Ireland has curtailed exports, whilst Norway has blocked the construction of an interconnector with Scotland on the grounds that exposure to the UK grid would compromise its energy security. 

If MPs noticed these sorts of things, Labour would be hammering the Tory’s record of neglect and preparing the way to blame them for blackouts when they take power. Fortunately (for the Tories), MPs aren’t paying attention. Indeed, HM Opposition’s current position is that the Government hasn’t been radical enough, with Sir Keir pledging to shut down all fossil fuel generation by 2030. Labour will no doubt moderate in office, but blackouts are already likely — any nudge in the wrong direction makes all-but-guaranteed. Such boldness is the greatest gift the Tories could ask for: the proverbial equivalent of accidentally starting a small kitchen fire in your friend’s house, only for an embittered ex to turn up with a Molotov cocktail. 

Starmer’s loudly-trumpeted eco-radicalism — combined with public scepticism over the Conservatives’ (legitimately) claimed green credentials — means the Tories can slip from office and happily ride the wave of public outrage when the grid fails. This not only helps the Party avoid blame, but also allows it to build what it lacks: a coherent, popular policy position which differentiates it from Labour. 

Opposition has other advantages. The Party’s stunted post-2016 metamorphosis owes in large part to the fast-tracking of socially liberal candidates during the Cameron era. Many of these MPs now form a caucus best defined by an obsessive desire to be liked in London media circles and bitter opposition to the core values of their voters. The “please invite me to dinner” brigade is the reason Britain can’t leave the ECHR and appears unwilling to reduce net immigration. It also explains why the party has passed a series of regulatory updates to Labour’s 2010 Equality Act that practically mandate public bodies (and their private contractors) to become “woke”. Other than locking the party in civil war, years of prioritising high-quality liberals means that the right of the party suffers from a shallow talent poll — a factor that has inhibited its ability to govern effectively since 2019. 

Meaningful planning reform is beyond the reach of any Conservative Government

The inevitable resignations brought on by a spell of opposition would allow the party — in theory at least — to recruit a new generation of high-quality candidates who are unified around its new agenda. The high probability of Labour passing nutty and unpopular social reforms should focus minds on exactly what that agenda is. 

Losing in 2024 also allows the Tories to side-step the ever-awkward issue of planning reform. Currently, the UK has fewer homes per head than any major European economy — and it is building them at nearly the slowest rate. Home ownership amongst both the 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 demographics has resultantly plunged since the 1990s — with their proportions of renters doubling and tripling, respectively. Many have responded by delaying having kids. This is something of a political disaster, as buying a home and having kids are the best predictors of becoming conservative. The planning system also explains Britain’s protracted economic stagnation, with a Centre for Cities report calculating that simply allowing development on fields next to train stations, within easy commute from five English cities, would unlock wealth equivalent to 20 per cent of GDP. 

Successive rebellions make clear that meaningful planning reform is beyond the reach of any Conservative Government. Labour, on the other hand, has signalled its intention to crush the planning vetocracy. Indeed, radical reform is making inroads in the party. As failing to fully repeal unpopular laws is much easier than passing them, the Tories could simply opt to allow Labour to do what needs to be done and reap the benefits when it comes to power. 

In all, the Conservative Party faces a clear choice. On one hand, it could scrape a victory in 2024 and face five fractious years of energy rationing, stagnant growth and failing to deliver its priorities. On the other, it could sit back and enjoy a term of desperate Labour firefighting, before returning to government a unified force, ready to rebuild a ruined country around its new agenda. 

Tory readers may be concerned that, in both scenarios, the country is in for a rough time. This misses the salient political point, which is to avoid being blamed. No.10 is currently a ticking parcel which needs to be passed on. Once the ticking stops, and the dust clears, Britain may find amongst the detritus something it desperately needs: effective opposition. 

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