What will happen to the Tories after the election?
I appreciate I’m getting a little ahead of myself with the election over a year away. But the pattern for the next twelve months seems both set and extremely dull. Labour have decided to run the 1997 campaign without the enthusiasm, neutralising all possible Tory attack lines on social issues and economic prudence. No doubt we’ll get a small offering of retail policies at some point, perhaps even on a pledge card.
Meanwhile the Tories seem determined, regardless, to fruitlessly hammer away at these perceived weaknesses, searching around for social and cultural “wedge” issues, while trying to encourage the impression that Rachel Reeves is the second coming of Trotsky. I can’t see any reason why that approach would work better now than it has done over the past six months.
The biggest “known unknown” is what happens to the economy. Inflation has lingered longer than expected but will fall, wages are likely to (finally) rise in real terms which tends to help governments. We’ve been on the edge of recession for a while and may tip over into one, particularly as more families use up their savings and come to the end of their cheaper fixed rate mortgage. Or the economy may continue to stay more resilient than analysts expected – public optimism about their own circumstances is rising, albeit from a low base. For all the noise of the daily media storms, this will decide how bad things get for the government, and is the reason I expect them to hold on as long as possible.
No party is showing the slightest inclination to engage with the numerous long-term problems Britain has (with the honourable exception of Labour’s planning policy). It is in everyone’s interests to pretend the tax burden will not need to rise, and that the government’s fantasy post-election spending plans are viable. Beyond that there is an ever-expanding list of knotty challenges from replacing the fuel tax, to salvaging social care and preventing the higher education sector from collapsing. But, again, it’s not in anyone’s interests to bring those things up now.
After the election things will change fast, especially if Labour have a good majority. Media interest will switch to the inevitable internal government disputes around how to deal with these challenges. The Tories, assuming they lose, will have the opportunity outside of government to air some of their internal tensions. Depending on how this plays out they could end up on a route that will keep them out of power for a very long time. Equally, Starmer is going to have a torrid time in power. Even if he gets an initial honeymoon it won’t last long. If the Tories can find a way through their disagreements they could be competitive again quickly.
So in the rest of this post I’m going to look at three things: the five distinct strands of ideology within the Tory party and the key points of tension that arise; the main leadership candidates and how they mesh with these different ideologies; and how all this might come together depending on the election result.
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