Opinion: Could there be a “Tory SDP?”

The right of the Conservative party, who have protested so destructively over gay marriage, might do well to remind themselves that their party itself is a marriage and marriages sometimes split up.

The damage that has been done to the Tories’ standing in the country over this issue can be seen in the latest Survation poll that has UKIP on 22% of the vote. This is only two per cent behind the Conservatives and if repeated at the next general election would result in a loss of around a hundred Tory seats.

UKIP would be unlikely to elect more than one or two MPs and quite possibly would end up with no representation whatsoever. The main beneficiaries would be Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  The former would be left with a crushing majority on a relatively low share of the vote. The Lib Dems would wind up with much the same number of MPs as now due to gains from the Conservatives counterbalancing losses to Labour.

The effect on the Conservative party would be to eliminate a large chunk of their more liberal MPs and hand power to the right. The average ukipper might very well see this as mission accomplished. They would have had a similar effect on the Tories as militant trade unionists had on the Labour party in the late 1970s.

The choice for centrists in the Conservative party after the next general election may very well end up being similar to the choice that faced the social democrats in Labour after 1979. Should they stay put in the hope that sanity returns to their party in a decade or two’s time or should they strike out and try to break the mould of British politics?

If a sizeable chunk of Liberal Democrats are left after the election then at least some of the liberal-minded Tories might opt to dissolve their partnership with the Conservatives and form a new alliance. A hundred years ago the Conservative and Unionist party was formed from a merger of Conservatives and renegade Liberal Unionists. The ultimate result of the rise of UKIP could be to send the liberal wing of the Tories back home.

Of course all of this is predicated on UKIP still being a force to be reckoned with by the time of the next general election. It might not be. The Conservatives could recover their discipline and some fresh calamity could befall one of the other parties.

Whether the scenario painted above comes to pass is simply a matter of how far the Tory right are prepared to go along their current direction of travel.

* Andrew Chamberlain is a London-based freelance journalist, Liberal Democrat member and activist. He was a councillor in North Ayrshire between 2007 and 2012.

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  • “The right of the Conservative party, who have protested so destructively over gay marriage, might do well to remind themselves that their party itself is a marriage and marriages sometimes split up.
    The damage that has been done to the Tories’ standing in the country over this issue can be seen in the latest Survation poll …..”

    You’re not really trying to suggest that SSM (which may effect the vote of 7% of people, according to polls – with that 7% split between Y/N) has caused this? Especially as the survey was carried out prior to the debate of the last few days.

    ““Does Nate Silver mean nothing to you? Did he write in vain?”” (Courtesy of Stephen Tall 🙂 )

  • Andrew Chamberlain 22nd May '13 - 4:31pm

    Chris_sh: In response to your first question – I hadn’t intended to suggest that the damage to the Conservative party’s poll rating has been caused by same sex marriage. I think it’s been caused by the party looking divided and ineffectual and that continued splits over issues like gay marriage and Europe will ensure that their ratings remain depressed and UKIP’s remain high.

    On the second question, I hadn’t read Stephen Tall’s post and I think that the point he makes about the need for regional polling if you’re to make an accurate prediction is perfectly good. However, I’m not making any concrete claims as to seat totals – just trying to give an impression of the overall dynamic created by a high UKIP vote and I don’t think the picture painted in my post is unreasonable.

    I plugged the poll numbers into Electoral Calculus just as Stephen Tall did and used that as a reference for the article. I accept that the UNS model is far from an accurate predictor, but in the UK where you’re looking at more than 600 individual seats it’s not bad at giving a rough idea of the standing of the two big parties. UNS is poor at predicting the Lib Dem total (the prediction from that particular poll was that we’d end up with 52 seats which is probably a bit low).

  • David Allen 22nd May '13 - 5:25pm

    More wishful thinking.

    Yes, the Tories can fight like cats, provided an election is a safe distance away. Something somehow always brings them back together when an election looms. That something is money. Tories are there to help Tories and Tory supporters stay rich. Disunity, which could put that at risk, gets squashed out of sight by the great mass of Tory politicians, activists and supporters voting with their pockets.

  • paul barker 22nd May '13 - 5:53pm

    There is no wishful thinking involved in considering that either or both “main” parties may be badly split in 2015, the evidence is there already. The Tories may well pull themselves together, I hope they do as right now they are threatening the economic recovery. Theres no guarantee though, they spent the best part of 2 decades pulling themselves to bits after Thatchers fall. As far as voters are concerned the damage to The Tory brand may already have been done, we wont know for sure till 2015.
    We know realignements can happen, we know the 2 Big Parties are in long-term decline, we have to be ready to welcome political refugees from either.

  • This is a very perceptive article, and it is right about pretty much everything. Just because tiny irrelevant fringe party UKIP are currently polling around twice the level of support nationally as the Lib Dems, that doesn’t mean they will win any seats. At the same time, just because Nick Clegg is level-pegging with bubonic plague in terms of popularity, that doesn’t mean that LibDem MPs are facing a massacre at the next election, knocking the party back to the levels of representation it enjoyed in the 1960s. Everything is fine. There is absolutely nothing to worry about. Carry on as you are.

  • Alex Macfie 22nd May '13 - 8:57pm

    There has been a “Tory SDP ” already. It was called the Pro-Euro Conservative Party. It lasted about 2 years, then merged itself into the Lib Dems (that is to say, the party dissolved and its leadership recommended members to come to us). While it existed it didn’t make many waves…

  • “Could there be a “Tory SDP?””

    Wasn’t that what David Owen led? 🙁

  • @Andrew Chamberlain :

    “I plugged the poll numbers into Electoral Calculus”

    An act of profound time-wasting if ever there was one. EC is of value only in keeping geeks awake at 4.00 am.

  • Yes, I do wonder if Clegg and Cammers will end up in the same party. We need to make sure the assets of the party are kept safe from any takeover by the right.

  • Paul Pettinger 23rd May '13 - 12:42am

    Liberal Tory’s moved back a while ago – see Nick Clegg

  • I tend to disagree that there is a strong likelihood of centrist tories striking out to ‘break the mould’ and a new gang of four leading a wave of defections.

    To adopt the language of the Limehouse Declaration, centrist tories tend to fall into the category of the ‘inert centre’, not the ‘radical centre’. And of those who predominate in my area and could consider the prospect, they are more likely to take themselves into voluntary retirement than cause any sort of meaningful ripple.

    This is also to what I ascribe the striking decline in tory membership since Cameron took over – disillusion among average members with the continuing advantage of inherited privilege, and the extremist drift towards ideological irrelevance on issues such as gay marriage and Europe.

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