Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph printed a letter, supposedly signed by 5,000 people from the commercial world, saying that a Labour government would be bad for business. Problems with the whole move quickly emerged, however. Turns out the letter had been on the members’ section of the Tories’ own website for weeks, so the idea that it was a spontaneous expression of the business community was rather impossible to swallow. Then several of the supposed signatories disowned any involvement in the thing – some of them stating publicly they were members of the Labour Party.
All this amounts to amateur-hour electioneering that would shame the Green Party, never mind the most formidable electoral beast ever to stalk the Earth. What happened to make the mighty fall so? I have talked at length before about the problems the Conservative brand faces in huge swathes of the country post-Thatcher, but that doesn’t account for the machinery itself going bust.
I, like many others, thought that the Tories would end up the largest party after the election – at least a few months ago I did. That’s because I priced in the Tory party machine rolling out and over its enemies, crushing all those in its path like a steamroller with a fifth gear. Cameron due to give a speech in front of Downing Street? Good use of incumbency, here it comes. And then? “Ed Miliband is stupid meany” (repeat x14). Okay, bad start, can happen to anyone. Then came “Ed Miliband as stud”-gate. Then the £8 billion NHS handout the Tories seemed unable to say how they’d fund. Then….no, it’s too painful to continue listing them all. It’s like pouring over late-period Mohammed Ali fights, watching him getting battered.
I think part of the problem comes down to ideology. Post-Thatcher and post-Cold War, the Conservative Party has never figured out what it’s actually about. The last five years have been a perfect example of this. In opposition, Cameron talked on and on about how the Tories were now a centrist party, kind of like the Orange Book wing of the Lib Dems, just with more moolah. Then a coalition with those very same Lib Dems lands in his lap and what does he do with it? Tries to make the right-wing weirdos happy the whole time, and fails to pull that off too.
Labour have similar problems, but they get round them by using the word “socialist” as if it can mean almost anything, such as “neo-liberalism with hint o’ social democracy and neocon foreign policy” for instance (see; Blair, Anthony Charles Lynton). It’s just something to rally around, and given Labour’s brand is a lot stronger (for the time being, I’d like to stress) they haven’t faced the same existential problems as the Tories have. I repeat, yet.
As a result of all this, the Conservative Party has not been attracting the youth and has, as a result, been getting collectively older. And while the old axiom that older people vote and younger people don’t holds more or less true, younger people just have more energy to deliver leaflets at 8 AM in the run up to polling day. That still matters. Young people coming up through the party bring with them new ideas as well, as opposed to only the old notions filling up HQ. They also know about how new media works, the result of which is you don’t screw up letters to the Telegraph ten days out from polling day.
Perhaps that’s it, I don’t know. Truth is, I’m as baffled as anyone at how the old Tory machine seems to have lost its kick. Thoughts on this, more than welcome.