08 October 2009

The Rise of the Teflon Tories

So, the Tory Conference has been and gone. In many ways, this should have been billed as a complete disaster: the Irish Yes to Lisbon put the spotlight back on Tory policy as regards the treaty: with the prospect of the entire Union completing ratification before the UK Election now very real, how would a Cameron Premiership deal with a fait accompli?

Of course, this then led to an element of strain on those old fissures that caused the Tories such pain: that ripped the Major Government apart, that drove the Hague Tories to obsession and irrelevance, that saw Tory members elect the bland, uncharismatic, Eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith as Leader rather than the popular, but pro-Europe Kenneth Clarke.

And an appearance at Conference by some of the Tories less pleasant allies in the ECR Group in Parliament really didn't help matters (though it's telling that by forming allies with such men as Michal Kaminski, it's the Tories who lose credibility: a couple of years ago pundits would have wondered why Kaminski was touching the Conservatives with a bargepole). Rather, it led to justifiable questions about the Tories 'compassionate' credentials.

Then we had Tory press men issuing 'clarifications' of policy. And Chris Grayling inadvertently deriding David Cameron's appointment of General Sir Richard Dannatt as a defence policy advisor as a stunt, in the mistaken belief that it was Gordon Brown who had signed the man up. Plus which, I'm still struggling to see where the beef is: around half a year is left before the election and we have nothing but the broadest of brush strokes to paint a picture of Tory Britain. Yet no one is asking them the tough questions.

(In fact, from what I can tell, no one is asking them any questions except the Labour Party, who are only doing so to deflect questions about their record and their platform. We're so close to polling day, and we still have nothing but the vaguest, airiest slogans, namechecks and buzzwords to tell us just what the two main prospective post-election governments of the UK will seek to do with power. Why has that been allowed to happen?)

And to top it all, the conference tracker poll by YouGov saw the Tory lead down to nine points - a four-point fall in just 24 hours!

So this could have been described as a shambolic week for the Tories, and it might have suggested that the caution they claim to be exercising is 100% justified. It's not over yet. They haven't won yet. David Cameron is not Prime Minister yet.


Contrast this with Labour's week, where they didn't do too badly - indeed, their week went better than expected, only for it to be ripped to pieces by The Sun. What should have been a good press, and the start of the fightback became another PR disaster and another nail in the coffin.

For the Tories, the reverse is true.

They've sidestepped the Europe question for now, and the Czech President appears to have another delaying tactic up his sleeve. The alliance with homophobes and fascists seems to be sinking once again without trace, mostly because it's European politics and, well, much as I hate to admit it, even fewer people care about that than about domestic politics. The clarification has moved on, and the story about Sir Richard has become just that - Chris Grayling's role is diminishing. And let's face it, a nine-point lead is never a disaster: this is like when a five-point Scottish opinion poll lead was described a "reality check for the SNP" by the Scotsman, though the Tories might wish to bear in mind what the outcome of that particular election was, but in any case, the final tracker is not yet out.

So they've got away with it. Vulnerability after vulnerability after vulnerability, displayed to the general public, the media and the Tories' political opponents, yet they've got away it.

And that is why, I think, we can forget the Labour fightback, and even the Hung Parliament scenario that the SNP, LibDems, and everyone else longed for is now receding into the distance. These are the Teflon Tories.

However hard they tried to make it for themselves, they got an easy ride. Compare and contrast with Labour, how every attempt at revival fails and they end up ever closer to electoral armageddon. Similarly, compare with Labour in the run-up to the General Election, and the immediate spell afterwards, when they were riding along on the crest of a wave.

As with Labour then, so with the UK Tories now. I hate to say it, but regardless of their protestations, there's an air of invincibility about them: if anything can take them down, it only does so slightly, and it doesn't keep them down for long.

No, this should have been somewhere on the Conference scale between a fiasco and disaster, but they are still on the front foot and the only thing that could put their status as front-runner in jeopardy is if Labour ditch Gordon Brown and a new Labour Leader shakes things up. And even then, the Tories would probably still be the largest party.

So despite the potential row over Europe, they're solid. Despite the raised eyebrows over their unseemly allies, they're solid. Despite the wooly, back-of-a-fag-packet policies, they're solid. And despite David Cameron not tipping off a party spokesman in a major Frontbench role about a key appointment (looks like 'sofa-style' Government will be with is for a few more years yet), they're solid.

The Tories can have a week like that, and still come out looking good. That road to a Tory government I talked about appears not to have any turnoffs.


Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is that as soon as the Tories announce a decent policy (points based immigration system, abolish inheritance tax), Labour steal it. The Conservatives can't afford to let on too much before the elction or all their decent policies will have been appropriated.

Anonymous said...

True Anonymous, but they surely can't expect people to vote for them on some top secret policies that only they know..... They really will have to tell us sometime... and it should be earlier than the night before the election.

Now I'd rather eat hot coal than vote Tory, but I'd love to know what they are going to do.

If the policies they DID announce at the conference are anything to go by a ticket to Paris would seem like a good idea...

Will said...

Anon, that's a good point, but as Tris suggests, it might be nice to get some sort of 'ballpark' idea of what a Tory Government would look like. And it says something of the state of the two parties if Labour reckons that a Tory idea is worth nicking.

Tris, I agree entirely, except about the moving to Paris part: I can't see a Sarkozy-run France as being any better than a Cameron-run UK. In fact, here's something to think about: assuming the Tories do win, the most left-leaning governments in the G8 will be in the USA and Japan. Now that's scary...