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The Longest Suicide Note in History: How Britain Rejected the Conservative Hard Right

Rishi Sunak’s historic defeat was a direct result of a decade of ideological hard-right policies that have decimated our political and social fabric

Rishi Sunak. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

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In 1983 the Labour party suffered its worst general election result for more than 50 years, falling to just over 200 seats and 28% of the vote.

In the aftermath of the result, the party’s hard left policy platform, under its then leader Michael Foot, was derided as being the “longest suicide note in history” with the party ordered to embark on a long march back to the centre ground of British politics.

Fast forward to 2024 and the Conservative party has just suffered a far greater defeat than Foot ever managed, with its own hard-right policy platform winning around 120 seats, on just 24% of the vote.

We shouldn’t gloss over the scale of this defeat. The Conservatives suffered their worst routing, not just of recent decades, but of its entire history, with around half of Rishi Sunak’s own ministers being booted out by their constituents. Among the seats they lost were four held by recent Conservative Prime Ministers, including Liz Truss, who lost one of the safest Tory seats in the country.

By contrast the Labour party won a huge landslide, with the Lib Dems quintupling their own seat tally and the Greens quadrupling theirs. Much will be made of Labour’s overall vote share barely rising from 2019, but Keir Starmer successfully gained votes where it counted, winning more seats per vote than any other Labour leader in recent decades.

Yet anyone tuning into the BBC’s breaking election coverage last night would have got a somewhat different picture of what had happened. As the results started to come in, the presenters instead focused endlessly on the increase in the vote for Nigel Farage’s Reform Party, with Clive Myrie describing it as “the story of the night”. Such was the ludicrous level of focus on Farage that at one point the channel cut away from coverage of Labour Deputy Leader’s victory speech to show pictures of the Reform leader silently getting out of a car.

Even when the BBC’s polling experts revised their earlier forecast to reduce Reform’s expected seat count from 13 to just four, the focus on the Faragists continued. Meanwhile the Green party, which ended up winning exactly the same number of seats as Farage’s party, barely featured in the commentary. 

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Not Competence But Ideology

Meanwhile many other commentators across TV and print sought to downplay the results as not being about the public rejecting the Conservatives’ hard right policies, but simply being about their lack of “competence”.

“The Tories didn’t lose this election because they were too right wing on some issues…” wrote John Burn-Murdoch of the Financial Times.

“They lost because voters of all stripes judged them to be incompetent and dishonest”.

Yet while it is undeniably the case that voters now view the Conservative party as being both incompetent and dishonest, that incompetence and dishonesty is inextricably linked to the hard-right agenda that they have pursued since first being elected in 2010.

The reason why so many public services are on their knees after 14 years of Conservative Government is not primarily because the party is ‘incompetent’, but because they pursued a deliberate ideological strategy of starving those services of cash and resources, while cutting the UK economy off from its biggest neighbouring market.

The same is true of the spectacular rise in food banks, food poverty and homelessness. None of these crises were caused primarily by Conservative ‘incompetence’, but by deliberate hard-right policies.

And while much of the blame for this defeat will understandably be laid at the door of Liz Truss and her so-called ‘mini-budget’ in 2022, it was not the former Prime Minister’s ‘incompetence’ that was the root cause of millions of peoples’ mortgage payments to surge, but her hard-right ideological commitment to rapidly slashing taxes beyond the level which the economy was able to sustain.

When Rishi Sunak first became Prime Minister, much was made of his supposed “professionalism” with liberal commentators applauding the “adults” being back in the room after the “incompetence” of the short Truss era. 

Yet, rather than differentiate himself from Truss’ failures, the Prime Minister doubled down on them, pushing ahead with yet more unsustainable tax cuts, while pushing his party even further to the right on so-called ‘culture war’ issues.

By the time the general election came around, the Conservative party’s platform was almost indistinguishable from that of Reform. Sunak’s manifesto was in many respects a love letter to the Faragists, promising to further slash taxes, deport migrants and conscript students.

The result was a truly catastrophic collapse in Conservative support, the like of which has never before been seen in this country. Sunak’s hard right political agenda was rejected not just in Labour seats, but right across the country, with its affluent former southern heartlands falling decisively to the centre ground Lib Dems.

These are the facts, yet they are not ones you are likely to hear much about in the coming days and weeks. Instead we can expect to hear even more about Farage and the need for the Conservative party to now “unite the right” around an ever more minority position on the very hard-right of British politics.

Already this debate is starting to play out on the airwaves, ahead of a coming Conservative leadership contest which is likely to see them settle on yet another leader devoted to pushing the party even further away from the centre ground of British politics.

With Labour now in such a dominant position, none of this may matter much in the short term. Yet the shallowness of Labour’s new electoral coalition, which rests on a historically low level of national support, and the elevation of Reform into second place in many of the new marginal seats set to play out at the next general election, means that the temptation for not just the Conservatives, but for Labour, to further appease the hard-right of British politics, is not likely to go away.

There is, however, an alternative. The alternative is to acknowledge that the ideological and extreme policies pursued by the Conservative party over the past 14 years were a dead end which have left Britain in a truly dire strait. By pursuing this agenda, the Conservative party wrote the longest suicide note, not just for itself but for the country it was elected to serve.


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The new Government will of course have to prove their own competence, but they will only prove it successfully by firmly rejecting the policies and ideology that got us into this mess in the first place.

Starmer’s promise that there will be “no return to austerity” is a welcome start to that, although it remains unclear how he will be able to achieve it, given his commitments to maintain the unsustainable tax cuts imposed and promised by Sunak in his final months.

Similarly his commitment to unite the nation and reverse the division caused by a decade of Conservative ‘culture wars’ is a welcome pledge that he would be wise to meet. Yet the rise of Reform and a British press still obsessed with the so-called ‘war on woke’, is likely to strain this aim too.

How Starmer responds to these challenges will define his Government. Yet while the focus will now shift to Labour, we should not forget the real reasons why the country got into its current state, and who cheerled the Conservative party as they put us here.

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