Collapse of British ConservativismWill Create a Vacuum that Must Be Filled
With the Conservatives likely to continue their tactics of division and distraction, opposition parties must step up with a new vision, says Nafeez Ahmed
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Over the past 48 hours, the British Government has functionally collapsed. Following 60 resignations and counting of Government ministers and aides, culminating in the news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will resign as Leader of the Conservative Party, the business of Government itself has virtually ground to a halt.
The collapse of Johnson’s Government comes at a time of intensifying and converging global and national crises: inflation, the cost of living crisis, war in Ukraine, impending recession, record rates of poverty and inequality, energy shortages, a global food crisis and climate catastrophe.
It is no accident that this political collapse comes at a time of peak complexity. We are seeing in real-time how deeply unfit to govern is the nexus of power that currently runs the UK.
I’ve written in these pages about the idea of ‘Energy Return on Investment’, a simple but powerful ratio which measures the amount of energy we use, to get energy out. The more we need to put in, the less we are getting out in the end, and the less we then have to devote to wider society and the economy.
But what about ‘Political Return on Investment’? Politics should be about running the country and solving our shared challenges through legislation and policy. Instead, what we’ve increasingly seen under Boris Johnson’s rule is that politics has become much more about naval-gazing on the scandals and stupidities of being in political office.
‘Political energy’ is being invested in the very act of doing ‘politics’ – dealing with trials and tribulations of being, and staying in, political office. But the more that is invested in this, the less political energy there is for the actual running of the country.
Under Boris Johnson, we’ve seen so much political energy invested in the artistry of politics that there is negligible political energy left to actually do what politics is supposed to be about: governing to meet the needs and aspirations of people.
The demise of his Government is thus, it would seem, a case of ‘peak politics’ – where the bearers of political office have collapsed under the weight of their own self-obsession with being in political office. The Conservatives have proven themselves incapable of navigating the complexity of the real world.
We Must Resist this Exercise in HypernormalisationHardeep Matharu
The collapse of Boris Johnson’s Government is not just about Johnson. It signals that the Conservative Party as a whole has hit ‘peak politics’.
His downfall is a symptom of the greater unravelling of the entire Conservative project as it has developed over the past decade, and in which Johnson himself – and the acolytes around him who have now suddenly abandoned him in his hour of need – played an instrumental role.
The grand project of the hard-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ has nosedived faster than a downed Spitfire.
With 54% of Britons now believing that Brexit is going badly (compared with just 16% who think it is going well), according to a YouGov poll, and other Byline Times polling showing that Brexit is no longer a unifying issue among Leave voters, the project that helped propel the Tories into power is quickly becoming a dead horse that no amount of flogging will bring to life.
This leaves the Conservative project with nothing tangible.
The party can offer no meaningful vision to beat voters over the head with. And what’s clear is that with the convergence of energy, food, economic and ecological crises accumulating, the continued efforts to drum-beat on the same tired tropes developed around the Brexit campaign are falling on increasingly deaf ears.
The ‘Red Wall’ which Johnson built around himself and then clambered up to get into No. 10 has nothing more to rally around. Its chief spearhead and self-anointed champion has been thrown unceremoniously from the ramparts. The next few months will only hit home with greater clarity how the vision he stood for is as solid as pure wind.
What people aren’t hearing is how this Government, and the ruling party, are going to actually do something about our problems.
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This leads us into a potentially dangerous impasse. At this stage of peak politics, every effort to salvage themselves is unlikely to work. We are now past a point of no return.
Every effort to come across as serious, well-meaning and deeply concerned about integrity, due process and what the people really want cannot but come across as facetious and fraudulent.
Because everyone who has jumped ship played key roles from the very beginning in creating and elevating Boris Johnson, the vision and culture he stands for – a narrow, elitist, dishonest and corrupt vision and culture that sits at the heart of the Conservative Party.
As such, the more the last remaining ‘distinguished figures’ of Conservativism keep popping out on TV to pontificate on salvaging the situation, electing a new Great Leader, promoting One Nation, harking back to ‘freedom under the law’ and other such anachronisms that have little appeal to disillusioned voters, the more they are outing themselves as a crack team of liars caught with their pants down for knowingly propping up a man of no integrity for years.
British Conservativism is about to enter an amplifying feedback loop of chaotic decline, none of which is likely to inspire confidence in voters.
In this sense, the Tory Party is experiencing a similar process to what the Labour Party experienced under Jeremy Corbyn, which had gone through its own process of declining Political Return on Investment – erupting into a political conflagration that resulted in the demise of the Corbyn project and the entrenchment of fatal political divisions inside Labour, which even to this day remain unresolved.
As a consequence, Labour, trapped in its own incoherencies, has struggled as an organisation to both understand the crises we are facing today, and generate a meaningful vision for the British public along with specific solutions that actually address real issues.
The picture looks much the same across the landscape of British progressive and liberal parties, which continue to jostle over ideological hang-ups and idiosyncrasies, many of which mean little to the wider public.
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The collapse of British Conservativism is finally opening a clearing from which the Tory project is unlikely to be able to recover very rapidly from.
The now unavoidably obvious failures of Brexit and the inability to offer any viable solutions to the crises of its own making are levelling the political playing field in a way that will only tip the scales in favour of a progressive alliance.
But it also means there will be a vacuum – one that will be exploited by extremists, both in the Conservatives Party and among its far-right allies, as well as its benefactors from Russian oligarchs to the Murdoch media empire.
This emerging political battleground means that the Tories will have little else to focus on except to attack, undermine and divide the opposition, in an attempt to rile their base.
There may be a temptation on the side of Labour and other parties to react to these efforts – but far more important is the development of a meaningful vision for the future of Britain that offers a viable way out.
As we watch the spectacle of Boris Johnson’s collapse and speculate over the next few months of accelerating political chaos, things are continuing to happen in the country and the world.
Rather than getting bogged down in responding ad nauseum to the day-to-day circus of collapsing conservativism, opposition parties need to do the work and grab the mic – focusing on how they can offer the public a real prospect to transform all our lives for the better.