Are we, at last, witnessing the strange death of Conservative England?

What does the Conservative party stand for in 2019?’ is a question asked in Tuesday’s Guardian’s Journal section by sociologist, William Davies. That got me thinking back to the count in the early hours of Friday morning in the newly formed Sleaford and North Hykeham Parliamentary at the end of the 1997 General Election, my only foray into the maelstrom of national party politics. As the Lib Dem candidate, who finished a respectable third behind a resurgent Labour Party and ahead of Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, I watched Douglas Hogg give his customary acceptance speech. I remember vividly the words he used. Casting his eye over a mass of blue rosettes in the audience, he ended by saying; “We Tories always win in the end”.

Living for most of my adult life in Lincolnshire, with the notable exception of the City of Lincoln, I can vouch for that remark. Having read his article, I just wonder whether, at last, Mr Davies might be on to something. I’ve finally began to read ‘The Strange Death of Liberal England’ by the late Anglo-American historian, George Dangerfield. I often ask myself why people vote Conservative, although I do confess having done so once in a General Election myself back in 1970 before four years living and working abroad made me see the error of my ways.

Surely, it’s to do with leaving things largely as they are but tinkering at the edges. PM Lord Salisbury, I believe, once compared it with floating down a river, occasionally using an oar to straighten out the craft when it got too close to the bank. Let’s be honest, most people want a quiet life and will be quite happy to look after themselves and their families. Few would subscribe to Robert F Kennedy’s statement; “I look at things that could be and ask, ‘WHY not?’.” Many people like simplicity – left or right, black or white, remain or leave etc. Judging by turnouts in elections, many just want to be left alone.

Whether a modern day George Dangerfield will ever be able to write about the death of Conservative England, let alone Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland is by no means certain. I have always subscribed to my old dad’s view that “it takes all sorts to make a world”. Just as I reckon that around 10% of the population would class themselves as diehard Liberal, with a slightly smaller percentage for radical Socialist, there will probably always be a hardcore conservative electorate out there of around 25%, depending on where you live, and a diehard group of a similar percentage, which will always votes Labour, because that’s how they were brought up, although the modern Labour Party has precious little to do with Keir Hardie, MacDonald, Attlee or even Wilson. As for the rest, well, their vote is clearly up for grabs and has traditionally been shared out between the two parties that have largely dominated the 20th century, mainly thanks to FPTP, and reflected in the parliamentary seats they have won. 


* John Marriott is a former Liberal Democrat councillor from Lincolnshire.

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  • Indeed. My understanding is, that what matters for the average Conservative voter is general stability and sensible fiscal policy. The current Conservative party has abandoned both, heading to the unknown future through the risky Brexit, and making huge spending promises without any plan how to finance them, other than explanation that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has “put money aside” for them.

    Even though the Liberal Democrats are planning to increase the spending, their promises seem prudent compared to the ones made by the current government, and Liberal Democrats have at least some kind of plans how to finance them. In current situation, that coupled with the fact that Liberal Democrats want to stay in thr EU, might make voting Liberal Democrats a tempting option for many long time Conservative voters.

  • The Conservative party really is the wrong name for it, it really should be called the Reactionary Party. Its membership has always been that, looking back to a glorious past. The difference between now and I suppose up until the first few years of Cameron is simple. Although the party membership is reactionary it was led by people with little ideology other than gaining power and ensuring people like them wielded the power. So Cameron could embrace a few “liberal” ideas while keeping his membership quite by beating up the skiving poor, the EU and immigrants, thus gaining the backing of the Daily Mail and its followers. Now we don’t have the idolgical lite leading the party we have the true Reactionaries ( OK Depeffle is idolgically lite but riding the ideological tiger he’s on, he can’t and won’t get off it without being eaten) and finally their leadership represent the membership. Reactionary in tooth and claw back to a glorious past of their youth.

  • Richard Underhill. 3rd Oct '19 - 2:08pm

    Robert Kennedy wanted to FBI to crack down on the mafia. He had the support of the President and, although an indifferent junior Senator for New York, he would have made a great President himself. He should have taken more care of his personal safety.
    “Well before 1978, President Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and four of the seven members of the Warren Commission all articulated, if sometimes off the record, some level of skepticism about the Commission’s basic findings.”

  • John Marriott 3rd Oct '19 - 2:37pm

    I feel that I should admit to those who might be tempted to reply that my original article was considerably longer and it was suggested by the editors that I should try to reduce it. I wonder whether I have done that brilliant of job of editing. Perhaps I might find the opportunity to sneak a few more pearls of wisdom in if the thread develops!

    Two things I would add now are that Mr Davies charts the change in the Conservative Party’s fortunes to be from the 1986 ‘Big Bang’ and, secondly, for the sake of clarity, Mr Dangerfield, writing in 1935, considered the real damage to the Liberal Party to have been done between 1910 and 1914, caused to a large extent by events in Ireland, from which it only partially recovered in the 1960s. I wonder, with Ireland central to the PM’s current EU strategy, whether history might now be repeating itself, only this time it would appear to be the Tory Party on the receiving end!

  • Dangerfield is an entertains read, John, but not everyone would agree that the party was in inevitable decline between 1910 and 1914. Byelection results in that period don’t necessarily support that thesis…. see some of the evidence produced by my old friend Michael Steed.

    I’m more persuaded by the contradictions produced in the war such as DORA, conscription and the inevitable loss of the Irish Nationalists. Maurice Cowling and Chris Wrigley also have some interesting things to say.

  • Peter Hirst 4th Oct '19 - 12:20pm

    Under our present electoral system, the Conservatives demise as anything but a fringe party will be sudden if it occurs. The Party has an incredible ability to survive and I wouldn’t write it off yet. If it could be reduced to under a 100 seats that should ensure a metamorphosis as a more credible party that has learnt its lessons.

  • First Past the Post voting is the anti democratic scourge that has brought Britain low. Millions can vote all of their lives, even for mainstream parties with no chance of ever contributing to any winning candidates and never being represented by anyone with a similar viewpoint. It is no wonder that turnouts are low and with a long term trend downwards.

    A proportional system will reflect how people think and will respond a lot more accurately to any changes in views, but can offer a greater degree of continuity to help long term economic planning. By contrast, FPTP has a lottery element as it elevates where voters of a certain view live within the boundaries over how they think overall. Since the war it has swung between nationalisations by Labour and sell offs by the Tories, which could all be repeated again to no good outcomes.

    FPTP offers few choices of electable parties and for many voter no realistic choice. Many seats are as safe as the old “Rotten Boroughs” So you are left with two monolithic big parties of internal coalitions forever stabbing themselves in the back to gain control. It is no accident that the big two are so fractious. The present system used to be said to be proof against extremism but extremism has taken both of them at the same time.

    In the anglo world, FPTP predominates. with the very similar AV in Australia. All of them have predominantly right wing governments not because the majority are right wing, but because the biggest minority are centre-right + right wingers. The left + centre left are slightly smaller and only tend to win if they can add the majority of centrist voters, a trick only Blair has managed in modern times.

    In the UK AV has been found to be potentially less proportional than FPTP and would only change the result in about 15 seats out of 650.

    If the LibDems are holding the balance of power again as in 2010 or have any pre-election agreement on PR as with Ashdown-Blair in 1997, there can be no repeats of the stitch ups that followed.

    Britain can only reform and modernise with a modern political system and underpinning it is a fair voting system that is not massively stacked towards the Tories and one which reflects people’s views and contains a Parliament that looks and sounds like the people, instead of an old Etonian debating house..

  • John Marriott 5th Oct '19 - 10:10am

    @Geoffrey Payne
    Yes, I do mean the country rather than the party. In terms of where the ‘conservative’ vote is today, it would appear to be, according to Tory Party strategists, to lie in our northern cities and not necessarily in suburbia. The shires are a different matter. As for playing the nationalist card, I am reminded of what Oscar Wilde said, namely that patriotism was “the last refuge of the scoundrel”.

    You will be aware that the title of my article was a question. We have written off the Tory Party as the voice of Conservative England for so long; but they keep, thanks to FPTP, to be able to bounce back. You will see from what I said that I am not entirely convinced that a sea chance is inevitable. However, we can always live in hope, can’t we? But what if they are right and it’s we, who are wrong?

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