• Patrick Cox

The Conservatives: party of the political centre ground?

Updated: Feb 4, 2019


The Conservatives are floundering. They are fighting amongst themselves, proving unable to deal with the task of Brexit negotiations and their membership & voters age steadily.



In an attempt to breath some life into her party Theresa May is making an extended pitch for more support. She, and her advisers, are trying to reposition the Conservative Party as moving into the mythic 'centre ground' of British politics. This is where, famously, British elections are won and lost. Due the anachronistic and deeply undemocratic First Past the Post electoral system there are a mere handful, in population terms, of 'swing' voters who actually decide the outcome of general elections. These happen once every five years, or so, but the May government might not last that long. And so she is attempting to capitalise on what some see as the Labour Party's lurch to the left.


On this analysis, Jeremy Corbyn's policies are too extreme for the bulk of 'middle England' voters. The theory is that there might be a hardcore of die-hard Corbynistas who won't hear any criticism of the Labour leader but winning some seats by a thumping majority won't make up for losing others more. Whether this interpretation of the Labour leader is correct or not will have to wait for another time. Of more immediate concern is the PR exercise being mounted to sanitise the May government and provide it with a fresh coat of paint and a touch more colour. A little below the thinly-applied veneer, however, lie the reality of the Conservative government and their duplicity of much of what they are now claiming to stand for.

May authored an article in the Guardian last Saturday in which she laid out her pitch.



May starts by playing the classics. The express desire to govern for the "whole country" is a conscious echoing of 'one nation Tory-ism' of years gone by. It is a sepia-tinted, patriotic sort of vision whose chief benefits to Conservative politicians down the ages is that it is very hard to really disagree with it. The use of 'our' is naturally intended to be inclusive - essential for someone who is so closely associated with the ongoing horrors of the 'hostile environment' policy'.

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Of course May wants other voters - she doesn't have enough to form a government on her own at the moment. It's also worth remembering that May is currently only able to command any kind of Commons majority because she is in league with the DUP; a party with some of the least 'positive and optimistic' policies of any party in the UK.

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Once the opening bluster can no longer be sustained May has to reach for some real policy positions. This is where the political contortions become really painful. It was only last winter that 23% of patients spend more than 4 hours waiting in A&E . Yes, the Conservatives are investing in the NHS, but that is little more than someone saying they spend money on food each week. There's still the possibility they might be malnourished.

"Driving up standards in schools" is presumably an oblique reference to the new systems of exams that have been foisted on educators. By the time these 'reforms' have worked through it will mean a lost decade for schools, who are also facing per-pupil funding cuts nearly across the board.

As for the idea that Tories are building a society that works for everyone.... It's as close to genuine double-speak as the article gets. Take cuts to PIP payments, the gross and widening inequality in the UK, the inexorable rise of insecure work, and where the only sure-fire investment is in property, and therefore inevitably at someone else's expense.

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This is the ideological justification for everything that has gone before. If May really is making a pitch for what she thinks is the centre ground, it just goes to show how far politics has shifted to the right. The unchallenged idea that innovation and efficiency are created by markets ignores the inconvenient truth that markets are always and everywhere regulated and propped up by states and their general populations. Not all markets are bad, but the Rand-ian fetishisation of free market economics is such that it is the only route, apparently, to rewarding creativity.

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So here we go again. Many people haven't had a decent pay rise because of the arbitrary caps imposed by the Tories. The way for people to keep more of their money is to enable them to be paid more in the first place, as tax cuts will inevitably mean cutting services that the poor rely on disproportionately and also end up benefitting the rich. Freezing fuel duty - subsidising the cost of petrol - is idiotic in environmental terms, but also only benefits those able to afford a private car in the first place. A party for the whole country? No, a party for the better-off.

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Do I need to point out that it was Margaret Thatcher who forced through economic change that 'left some communities behind'?

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And so we near the end. And even in an article so generally devoid of reality as this there is a kernel of truth hidden. It is true that those reaching their majority now and entering the world of work, and family and grown-up life do remember the crash as the defining moment of their young lives. Not even 9/11 has much relevance to the class of 2018; that took place as some of them were literally being born.

Yet the moment of clarity provided by this genuine insight only serves to underscore the absolute paucity of the Conservatives ideas. There are barely empty slogans here. Instead there is some desperate replaying of old tunes and a great deal of untruth. On this evidence the centre ground the Tories have occupied is a blasted and windswept no-man's land.


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