James Melville argues that the appeal of the Conservative Party to the UK electorate is the greatest British political tragedy of the modern era.
I have never voted for the Tories and I never will. I have never understood why people vote Tory. Voting for the Conservative Party is the political version of Stockholm Syndrome, which causes Tory voters to develop a psychological alliance with their political captors despite the consequences of voting for something that is so obviously against their best interests.
Since the early 1980s, successive Tory governments have dismantled the social contract whereby we pay our taxes for fully functioning public services. Under Thatcherism and then austerity our public services have either been dismantled, asset-stripped or sold off. Our public sector workers have endured an eight-year pay freeze in real terms since 2010.
The Tories try and refashion British society, but not in a good way. As well as rolling back the state to slash public services investment, they have wilfully neglected the poor and vulnerable and left many communities without any form of prosperity and hope. Since the Tories came to power in 2010, there has been a 165% increase in homelessness in England. Compare and contrast that to Finland where homelessness levels have been reduced by 35% over the same period.
The Tories have managed to create a fake aura of competence. This is one of the biggest myths in the history of British politics.
Over a million food bank supplies have been issued per year in the UK since 2016 – a massive increase from the 40,000 food bank supplies in 2010. The official poverty rate (defined as those families living on incomes of less than 60% of the median income after accounting for housing costs) rose from 22.1% to 23.2% last year – the biggest single year jump since Margaret Thatcher was in power in 1988. This rise in poverty is inevitably linked to a decade of Tory austerity and the freezing of the nominal value of tax credits, child benefit, disability allowances and housing benefits since 2010.
The Tories destroyed many of our industrial heartlands in the 1980s and many of these communities never recovered. The Thatcher era accelerated the decline of shipbuilding, steel and mining, creating huge levels of de-industrialisation, resulting in a 30-year period of regional inequality in Wales, Scotland and the north of England compared to the more prosperous south east of England.
Despite this continued destruction of social policy, industry and public services over two separate generations, here we are today, facing another general election with the Tories 10 points ahead in the polls. They have governed the UK for 59 of 90 years since 1929. So, why do people keep voting for them?
The Myth of the Non-Elitist Etonians
One of the most consistent findings in social psychology is that people find ways to believe whatever they want to believe. The Conservative Party has always been able to appeal to large numbers of people on the basis of faux patriotism and conning voters into thinking that it can deliver economic growth and prosperity.
They’ve managed to create a fake aura of competence. This is one of the biggest myths in the history of British politics.
For instance, the national debt has doubled to £1.8 trillion since 2010 (despite austerity), yet Labour is blamed for ‘spending all the money’ despite Tony Blair’s Government running at a surplus for four years and the Gordon Brown Government coming up with a fiscal plan to deal with the financial crisis in 2009, which most of the G20 countries then followed.
The perception of Tory competence and how opposition parties ‘cannot be trusted’ gains traction because millions of people ignore their potential for critical thinking by continuing to read the wrong newspapers. The vast majority of the British print media leans towards right-wing agendas. It doesn’t take much to work out that, if millions of people are reading these newspapers or even just seeing their dog whistle headlines on a daily basis, they are going to be influenced by them and subsequently obtain many misplaced perceived wisdoms and misguided viewpoints.
It becomes a form of brainwashing built up over decades to somehow trust the Tories and distrust any form of opposition to the Tories. Yet, paradoxically, people are consistently voting for a party which attacks their own self interests.
What does someone living on the minimum wage, living in a community with increased poverty or living on reduced benefits have in common with an over-privileged, multi-millionaire Tory politician who wilfully cuts public services? Absolutely nothing as far as I can see. But, somehow, the Tories manage to persuade gullible sections of voters into keeping them in power.
And they are still at it with Brexit. Imagine being a political party that campaigns to reduce our economic growth by 3.5% per year over the next decade – that’s what the Tories are currently asking people to vote for.
Brexit cultivators and Old Etonians Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have absolutely nothing in common with the vast majority of voters. Yet many people believe that they are sticking it to the elite, despite them being about as elite as it gets.
Yet again, people tug at their collective forelocks and believe in a certain type of politician who clearly does not have their best interests at heart. They are voting for individuals who have dismantled their communities, public services and infrastructures and yet are now willing to trust them again to deliver Brexit and ‘take back control’ – despite overwhelming evidence suggesting that the poorest communities will be hit hardest by Brexit.
The greatest British political tragedy of the modern era is the susceptibility of millions of voters to the Tories. It is a tragic, self-defeating vote for more pain. It is a pattern that continually repeats and repeats. It is a tragic example of a never-ending cycle of Stockholm Syndrome in British politics and society.