Earlier this week I found myself watching a C-SPAN interview of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from 1993. Coming across as a new brand of Labour politicians, engaging and clearly economically competent, (even for this Conservative), one is left feeling safe, confident, even agreeing with what they are saying.
But, to extend the phrase, 22 years is a long time in politics.
The two modernising forces in British politics today resemble the Blair and Brown of 1993 – confident in their own skin and determined to drag their party to the centre of British politics.
What David Cameron and George Osborne have done is quite remarkable (nb before you switch off, this whole blog won’t be a complete Tory love-in). Whatever you think of their politics, the way they have quietly gone about claiming the middle ground is a masterpiece in the political arts, and I hazard a guess that the history books will agree.
So, with what is essentially a rebirth of the Conservative Party, what do the last three months tell us about the next five years (plus)?
Markedly different from the Coalition, this Government is no longer solely preoccupied with fixing a problem. Their partnership (if you call it that) with the Lib Dems helped to, albeit slightly, resolve the economic situation.
The Government has understood three things:
i) The importance of having a 5 year roadmap. George Osborne has already started to articulate this in his first budget – the Conservatives are the party of the workers and the party of one nation. The fact that he’s outlining a five year entry plan for an Osborne Government only helps his situation
ii) They now have the confidence to take unpopular decisions in their first year. Take Welfare: the way they sheepishly brought in the benefit cap in the last Parliament has been replaced by a bullish, early cut even further – the Party has successfully moved the dial
iii) The Labour party’s woes are not enough. You have to produce a vision people can vote for – hence the continued trek to the centre ground
But not everything is hunky dory for the Party.
A small majority means the upper echelons have to tread carefully with a number of their backbenchers. David Cameron currently enjoys significant political capital – but that will be spent over the next couple of years.
The right wing of the Party is still clearly a problem, and will not go away easily. I understand that only in the last few weeks has contact been made with high-profile right-wing backbenchers. That’s over two months without a hand of friendship being extended – something they will not be forgetting in a hurry.
Another development that may bring the honeymoon to a close is the reported inclination of the Prime Minister to go back on his promise to only serve two terms. Whilst any motives would be completely understandable, he simply can’t. And won’t. He risks becoming the story of the next election if he does.
And what of the Opposition?
Labour seems to have learnt no lessons from this time in 2010 – they said with complete confidence that their loss at the 2015 general election was because they allowed the 2010 government to make the running, and define the agenda, without offering proper opposition due to internal wranglings.
‘We can’t allow that to happen again’. They argued. Pleaded.
Well, it has happened – and happened in an even more striking way than before (as evidenced by the ‘Opposition’ provided over welfare reform).
In order to be an effective opposition you have to; i) have a galvanising agenda, and ii) be eloquent on issues that matter to the whole of the UK.
That’s why the SNP are such an effective voice in Westminster. They realise that they have a window of opportunity, with Labour in its current situation, to set the agenda and be Her Majesty’s de facto Opposition. They have a vision of independence for Scotland (a galvanising agenda) yet they’re eloquent on issues that matter to the whole of the UK. The more bullish they become in their Opposition, the more Labour will suffer in comparison.
Enough has been said about Jeremy Corbyn and, without focusing too much on this, it seems unlikely that his election as leader would be a ‘Hallelujah’ moment for the Labour Party and the country. Corbyn’s galvanizing identity on the left risks sending his party to a place past the margins of British politics with the clear blue water of the Atlantic between the two largest parties.
Instead of jumping straight to a Government in waiting, Labour has to develop as an effective and strong Opposition party, they can’t afford to run before they can walk. Whilst Corbyn will have an overall narrative (unlike his predecessor), it is unlikely to be popular. That is the danger nowadays for a conviction politician.
These things (and we haven’t even discussed Europe, UKIP and the Lib Dems) mean that, barring an issue of seismic proportion, the Conservative party will win the 2020 general election.
Not the hardest prediction to make, you shout?
Ok – how about this then: George Osborne, as PM, defeats Jeremy Corbyn with an increased majority. The SNP will hold another referendum on UK membership and UKIP, despite what many claim, will still be riding high in European and General elections. The Ashes will have been retained by England since 2015, One Direction will be on their second reunion tour, and Coventry City will be enjoying life back in the Premier League where they belong.
No? Ok, forget the UKIP comment – the rest will stand.
Simon Richards, Account Manager, Public Affairs
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November 20, 2023
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