By Mark Ferguson and Marcus Roberts
A dangerous germ of an idea is now in the Tory body politic – and it will grow fast. Last week Benedict Brogan gave voice to it. The idea is that the Tories have lost the next election and Tory minds are now shifting to what that means in terms of donors, leadership, policy and, of course, ideological purity.
What’s striking about this contagion is its source of origin: Westminster. This is evident in the government’s difficulties of maintaining discipline amongst Conservative backbenchers who often feel they have little chance of promotion thanks to their gender (male) and party (not LibDem) – meaning there’s little joy is to be found beyond the government payroll vote.
This malaise is in turn mirrored by the grassroots of the Tory Party. As the barometer of Tory true blue thinking that is the grassroots survey of ConHome readers has revealed 53% of Tories sampled now expect to see Labour back in power either solo or in coalition with the LibDems come 2015.
Interestingly, the one place that this malaise does not seem to have taken hold fully is at ConHome itself where their ‘Majority Conservatism’ (the evil twin of the Fabians’ own ‘Labour’s Next Majority’) is constructively and creatively contributing ideas in terms of message, manifesto and machine which pose a far greater threat to Labour’s own hopes then the dangerous meditations on defeat that the Tory’s high priests now serve up to their rank and file through the medium of ‘all is lost’ briefings and Boris-mania.
The electorate does not reward divided parties. Doubling down on discipline and exhibiting confidence in your leadership isn’t a fashion of politics – it’s essential. Right now it seems like there’s more commitment to the idea of a Tory victory outwith Westminster then within it. If that idea takes hold of the Party writ large it will be nigh on impossible to break and come summer 2013 the Tories will likely find themselves in a death spiral of non-confidence of their own design.
Of course we know exactly how this ends. Post 2005, and especially post 2007, a huge chunk of labour MPs seemed to believe that the party had rode its luck long enough and the next election was lost. After “the election that wasn’t” the number of PLP members who thought salvation (or a less crippling defeat) would come by replacing Brown with someone (anyone) began to hobble the government. A self fulfilling prophecy. The media picked up on it. It was amplified and reinforced. Soon itt was conventional wisdom, and the 2010 election was lost before it was even begun, with Labour the political equivalent of cricketers walking onto the pitch with smashed bats.
Appease the backbenchers. Throw some red meat to the critics. Cling on. And hope for the best.
Gordon Brown and the Labour Party (or John Major and the Tory Party for that matter) can tell him exactly how that ends. It won’t work. It never works. Especially now that the one reason to vote with the government even when you vehemently disagree – preferment and promotion – no longer applies in the Tory Party of 2012. Vote against the government – get promoted. Vote with the government – get promoted. It’s all the same really, except the former means you’re more of a threat – and worth taking seriously. Expect more rebellions in future. Bigger rebellions. Perhaps even vote of no confidence territory rebellions.
So whilst Cameron may – for now – continue to wear the crown, in the land of the coalition the rebel is king. And how long do you think they’ll continue to let him wear it? That depends on how fast that dangerous germ of an idea continues to grow.
Mark Ferguson is the Editor of LabourList. Marcus Roberts is the Deputy General Secretary of the Fabian Society, and writes here in a personal capacity.