For a very long time, I was sure the Tories would pull through and win the next election. They still very well might – but only because Labour is so breathtakingly, catastrophically poor. Even a mediocre Labour Party would be expecting to pick up 1,500 local seats on Thursday and win the EU elections by a canter given how poor the Tories have been of late.
I figured, back in 2017, that whatever May brought back to the house in the form of a withdrawal agreement from the EU, the Conservative party would almost wholly back. Maybe there would be some grumbling and a handful of holdouts. That was considering that back then I didn’t even think May would return with something as “good” as she managed to get (good in this sense meaning Brexity, which is not usually how I would define good, obviously). Instead, the Tories have trounced her deal, repeatedly. And her reputation. And very possibly Brexit and the Conservative party along the way.
The Tories used to put power above all else. That was the cliche about them, if you can still remember that far back. Now, they are known for having MPs who until recently were ministers saying things to the media like “Well, you know, I’m Brexit Hardman Steve Baker”. It’s quite the comedown in a very short period of time.
One symptom – or could it be a cause? – of the malaise that infects the Tory party is the denigration of Cameron inside of the party itself. Sure, Labour people were always going to trash his legacy, and any liberal minded Remainers might also justifiably have a bone to pick with Dave. But again, Tories were always good at putting ex-leaders on a pedestal. Even the not so great ones. It was about telling a story that went like this: the Conservatives fix the country and then rule it with an even hand; Labour pick idiots and/or psychos who even Labourites eventually see through. All of the Tory leaders, whatever faults they had, did the best job that could be done for the country, goes this narrative.
Whatever you can say about it, Labour turning the man who won them the largest majority ever and three elections in a row into what they now declare as the greatest monster that ever roamed these isles is par for the course; it’s just what the Labour Party does whenever it loses power. It goes with the religious nature of the Labour movement – whomever gets into government is never going to be pure enough. It would even happen to Corbyn if he got into Number 10.
Which, madly, he might do now that the Tories have decided to emulate one of the Labour party’s worst traits. Cameron is now spoken about in Tory circles as one of their worst ever leaders. There are many things about this that make no sense from a Conservative perspective – I’ll just stick here to the most glaring. One, he got the party into government after three colossal failures on the trot, even if it was in coalition, a coalition he managed to make hang together for five years. Two, he then won a general election, the only one the Tories have managed in the last six attempts. Three, he was the only Tory leader in any sort of recent memory who was widely popular with the country. Yes, I know, this has all been air-brushed out of history, but Cameron, while he was PM, was generally popular. And by popular I mean, his approval rating ranged from around +3 to about -8 for most of his premiership (it went south in 2016, in the run-up to the referendum). Not brilliant in a Platonic sense, but compared to the current leaders of both main parties, that is phenomenal. May’s popularity rating is currently -34 nationwide; with Tory members, it is an incredible -73. Corbyn has a -65 approval rating in Scotland (and a -27 approval rating amongst Labour voters in Scotland). Having an approval rating of 0, meaning as many people in the country think you’re doing as well as not doing so, now seems like something from a bygone era. Yet Cameron was only PM three years ago.
Four, Cameron gave them the stupid referendum in the first place, so the Brexiteers should love the chap. Yet, they clearly do not. Major is bad too because he isn’t Brexity. That has become the yardstick for everything Tory now, how Brexity you are. This is after a general election in 2017 in which they tried to be the Brexit party – and lost their majority. It doesn’t work for them, it’s been tested.
Having said that, the Tories have put themselves in such a terrible bind it’s tricky to see what they could do now as an alternative. They will never be more Brexity than the Brexit party for the simple reason being, the Tories need to govern the country in the actual real universe as opposed to some wooly fantasy space where English people are required to do nothing but sup real ale and play cricket on the village green all day long. The Brexit party can get away with being vague and promising everything to everyone – it’s like the Leave campaign ad infinitum. The Tories can never compete with that.
But now they are so infected with Brexit, how the hell do they tempt back most normal people who used to vote for them before they went all weird and Francois-esque? Well, they could just deliver a Brexit that is unbelievably awesome, where everyone really does get to quit their jobs and live in some sort of Disneyland for English blokes. Oh yeah, that isn’t possible.
Up against the worst leader the Labour Party have ever had by miles, a Liberal Democrat party that had effectively given up, and a UKIP that self-destructed by becoming the BNP, the Tories decided to kill themselves anyhow. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: politics is weird.