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Why would anyone vote Tory?

The Conservatives have nothing to boast about

Artillery Row

Given the risk of incurring the displeasure of voters by needlessly asking them to go to polling stations on dark winter nights, the next election will very probably take place before the clocks change at the end of October 2024.

Can anyone see the Conservatives going into it with a credible argument as to why they deserve another term in office?

It is a question that is starting to be asked across the country, including by many habitual Tory voters who have noticed that after twelve years of their party calling the shots, nothing much works properly in modern Britain.

It may yet prove to be the case that the still highly unsatisfactory state of the Labour party comes to the rescue, though clearly it is in better shape under Keir Starmer than it was under Jeremy Corbyn in 2019. Setting aside the condition of Starmer’s party, what is the positive case for giving the Conservatives an unprecedented fifth successive go at steering the ship of state?

Consider for a moment that at each of the last three general elections, the Tories have presented an incumbent PM to the electorate as an outstanding leader with a winning long-term vision for Britain and then replaced that person by mid-term at the latest.

Our immigration and asylum system would shame a banana republic

In 2015 the choice was framed as stability under David Cameron, or a coalition of chaos with Ed Miliband. Cameron was gone a year later after leading Remain to defeat in the Brexit referendum.

In 2017, Theresa May was billed as the “strong and stable” choice. Two years down the line she got whacked, too. In 2019, Boris Johnson wooed and won the red wall with his levelling-up agenda and talk of getting Brexit done. This summer the MP firing squad was re-assembled, and they got rid of him as well.

Johnson’s vote-winning vision of a Tory big state using infrastructure investment to bring opportunity to the masses in unfashionable places was then jettisoned messily and in stages. First for the unfunded tax cuts aimed at the rich by Liz Truss, then after her defenestration for a return to Osbornomics and austerity under Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt.

Whilst Conservative MPs were caught up in one long parlour game of plot and counter-plot, core public services declined disastrously. The state of various branches of the NHS beggars belief. More than seven million people are waiting for operations (an all-time record), ambulance response times have risen precipitously and with frequently fatal consequences, face-to-face GP appointments have become all but impossible to get and the number of people waiting more than four hours for attention at A&E departments is soaring.

Schools have barely started making good on the learning lost out on by pupils — especially ones from deprived backgrounds — during the various Covid lockdowns. Basic policing has all but collapsed, to the great benefit of bicycle thieves, burglars, shoplifters and posh eco-loons. The incredible shrinking Armed Forces are still shrinking. Arms-length government agencies such as the DVLA, HMRC or the Passport Office that were once known for efficiency are now practically impossible to contact and routinely fail to meet output targets.

The state of the immigration and asylum system would shame a banana republic, with border control pretty much now a thing of the past. Overall migrant numbers were meant to come down but have yet again gone up. A nation that once “ruled the waves” now has to beg France to stop rubber dinghies landing on its southern shores — more a vassal state than a vessel state these days. Welfare reform — something the Cameron regime did moderately well — has toppled into reverse, with more than five million people now on out-of-work benefits, even though there are a million job vacancies and numerous employers complaining of labour shortages.

These days black swans seem to form half the flock

Subsequent Tory premiers have replicated Cameron’s abuse of patronage in his resignation honours by aping his tactic of showering prizes, especially peerages, over key lieutenants from their failed regimes.

Surely it all amounts to what Johnny Mercer once aptly described — well before his own elevation to the ever-expanding ranks of Cabinet attendees — as a “shit show”. Ever since the EU referendum, the Tories have been offering the voters politics by lucky — or unlucky — dip. No coherent ideological direction is adhered to. No mandate given by the electorate, either personality or policy-driven, is likely to be honoured. Manifesto pledges get ripped up with alacrity and leaders thrown under buses just as soon as ill-disciplined blowhards such as Sir Roger Gale or Andrew Bridgen tire of them. The new electoral coalition that Brexit forged for the Tories, without their having much of a clue as to how or why, has been allowed to slip away.

In the last leadership contest but one, the only contender who rooted her blueprint for Britain in considered Conservative thought, Kemi Badenoch, was not permitted to be placed in front of the grassroots party membership. Instead, Tory members were asked to choose between a standard issue technocrat swanker and a superannuated sixth form libertarian. Naturally, they opted for the moveable object rather than the resistible force, and more chaos ensued.

Is there anything to be said for this party, other than it not being any of the others? Certainly it spares us David Lammy, Ian Blackford or Layla Moran having any sway over our future. But instead it serves up its own horrors. Yes, it has had to face a difficult run of “events” but these days black swans seem to form half the flock. Competence in public administration and a sense of strategic direction are therefore more important than ever.

It seems like a longshot, but you never know: Starmer and one or two others in the shadow cabinet, such as Rachel Reeves and Wes Streeting, might turn out to have these qualities.

Benjamin Disraeli once told the House of Commons that a Conservative government was an “organised hypocrisy”. Things have got much worse since then: a disorganised hypocrisy has nothing to be said for it at all.

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