The Tories have a lot going their way. They are going to do a boundary review that will make the new constituencies more Tory and less Labour friendly (and way less Lib Dem friendly, if such a thing can be imagined). The government looks like it is going to make ID mandatory at polling stations. The Labour Party still seem like they want to continue on with their suicide trip, flirting heavily with the idea of Rebecca Long-Bailey as their next leader. The Lib Dems have been once and for all destroyed, so there isn’t even a chance of them chipping away at the Tory majority from another angle.
In addition to all of this, there is another big roadblock to any party beating the Tories anytime within the next fifteen years, one that no one is really talking about in the media. It’s Westminster becoming hegemonically, culturally Tory, something that will deepen year on year.
The Conservative party fell short of a majority in 2010 and formed a coalition government with the Lib Dems. This meant that although Labour stock fell, we had a situation, probably never to be repeated in any of our lifetimes, when three political parties were highly relevant in the whole of the country. The Tories and the Lib Dems since they were in government; Labour, because it was believed that it was very likely they could form the next government. After the 2015 general election, everything swung much further the Tories direction. Yet within a year of winning what was a slim majority, Cameron was gone post-EU referendum. The Brexit result both threw everything up in the air and meant that leaving the EU sucked up all the political oxygen. After the 2017 general election, we were back to hung parliament territory. The Tories seemed to be clinging on the whole way in spite of the weakness of the main opposition party.
Now, the Tories have a big majority with Labour and the Lib Dems in pieces. What were witnessing is the first moments of what is likely to be a long period of true Tory hegemony within Westminster. The deeper this goes, the harder it will be for the country to emerge from it. I’ll now explain why.
First of all, I know the line about how Westminster is so out of touch with the rest of the country and what happens in the bubble doesn’t reflect what goes on in Workington, blah, blah, blah. Except, when you stop and think about this, it only goes so far. Take Euroscepticism. No one really cared about this that much before the EU referendum was called. It just wasn’t a big issue for the vast majority of people. Now, it is the major cultural schism affecting the whole country. Like it or not, within a country as centralised as the UK, most political weather is made in Westminster and then radiates outward, slowly sometimes, but it happens nonetheless.
What we’re seeing in Westminster at present is everyone coming to terms with the fact that the Tories are likely to be in power for the next decade. The effects of this are wide-sweeping. In-house public affairs people at big companies who are anti-Brexit were sometimes happy to be critical of the Brexit process and swing their elbows a bit pre-election; now, everyone wants to play nice with the government. One, there is now no way to stop Brexit, so there is no value in trying to spend political capital trying to do so; two, this government and very possibly its successor will be in power for a large chunk of the rest of these people’s working lives. Everything will become way more Tory-friendly in Westminster, very quickly.
In think tank world, most of the policy types who are floating around out there in the Westminster ether are going to work for Tory-leaning outfits. That’s where all of the policy action is going to be over the next ten years at least, and if actually changing anything means something to you, working for a Tory-outfit (or at least one with good contacts into the Conservative party) starts to look de rigueur. Particularly given Labour seems to be in no mood to realise that one of the big mistakes they have made over the past decade is to allow all of the non-aligned thinking to drift to the right at their expense. Even more policy ideas will now be slanted toward the centre-right/right.
In the media, the space on the right to talk about things will get bigger while the left space shrinks. More liberals will try and make their peace with the Tory hegemony, making the tent the Tories are putting together larger while the Labour tent shrinks even further. Perhaps Starmer or Phillips can stop this rot – if Long-Bailey gets it, this process will become turbo-charged.
Again, there are ways to halt this process, even now, but it would require a Labour Party way less insular than what we are seeing at present. I’ll leave you to wrestle with how likely you think that is to emerge any time soon.