Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/442/5242
Can the Tories win the next election?
FOLLOWING LABOUR'S disastrous local election results this is a question that many people are now asking. After years of un-electability, is it possible that under their new leader, David Cameron, they could return to haunt working-class people? Steve Score looks at the prospects for the Tory Party.
The question seems more plausible because of the growing discontent with New Labour, and Tony Blair in particular. Their pro-big business policies, the destruction of public services, political corruption, the disaster in Iraq, have all contributed to this. In the local elections this opposition fractured in different directions. But there is currently no mass workers' party to provide a viable national alternative to the main parties.
In this context the Tories have been recovering from the dire situation they have been in for the last nine years. This was clearly shown in the local council elections where Labour lost 319 seats and the Tories gained 316. If the polls had been completely national, the projected share of the vote on that basis would have been 40% for the Tories with Labour on 26%, 1% behind the Liberals.
An analysis of the results by the Electoral Reform Society for the Observer suggested, even after accounting for the differences between general and local elections, Labour could lose 149 MPs in a general election, bringing them down to 206. The Tories on the other hand could increase their current 198 to over 300, which along with boundary changes could put them "on the verge of an overall majority."
Yet the local elections this year did not take place everywhere and are not therefore a complete guide to how things may pan out. For example, the support for the Tories in Scotland and Wales, where there were no elections, remains minimal. In the big cities in the North, the Tories did not make progress, failing for example to win a single seat in Manchester.
The Tories have suffered as a result of their eighteen years in power up to 1997, in particular from the hatred of Thatcher and her naked class war against working-class people. Many working-class people have never forgotten her role and vote to keep the Tories out. In reality, they still have a long way to go.
It is true that the move back to the Tories from previous traditional Tory voters particularly in parts of the South and Midlands may account for much of their recovery, but could they also win over bigger sections of working-class voters?
The extent to which New Labour have destroyed the past reputation of the party as being the defender of public services is shown by a new ICM poll for the Guardian. When Thatcher claimed: "the NHS is safe in our hands", most people knew it was laughable. The Tories were seen as the party that privatised our services and with sleazy connections to the rich.
Whenever polls asked which party people trusted on public services it was always Labour, despite the fact they were in the past seen as "weaker" on the economy.
In a complete turnaround the Tories are now ahead on both health and education! Ironically, Labour leads on handling the economy, emphasising their new role as being 'trusted' by big business. This particular lead will only remain whilst the economy appears relatively stable, and could melt away rapidly if the economy nose-dives between now and the general election.
With David Cameron in charge of the Tories, there has been a serious attempt to expunge the memories of Thatcher. It has to be said that sections of the press, up to now, are also more sympathetic to him than to previous Tory leaders.
He has embarked on a campaign to improve their image. Of course, the substance is still the same - another capitalist party. Labour is getting its worst attacks on services, such as education, through parliament with Tory support. When Cameron talks about helping the poor, or that there is "more to life than money", he can do it from the comfort of being an old-Etonian millionaire.
When he talks about having "to be blue to be green", and trying to prove it by cycling to work, he is then embarrassed by the revelation that a car follows him behind the bike to work with his clothes and luggage!
The Tories had the problem that Blair stole their policies, now Cameron is attempting to steal Labour's style!
He has even apparently turned to bite the hand that feeds him in by attacking big business. He says that the Tories have been "painted into a corner" as being the party of "unbridled capitalism" and is keen to get rid of that image. He talks of "corporate social responsibility" and has criticised WH Smiths, Tesco's and BHS. The latter was for a range of "sexy" clothes for young children, which they withdrew three years ago. Despite this, sections of big business are now looking more favourably on the Tories.
Cameron, for all his "modernising" image, is attempting to take the Tories back to a past period. This was when, as the main party of big business, they nevertheless portrayed themselves as representing everyone - "one nation". If they came to power of course the policies would be more of the same "Thatcher-Blairism".
Whether the Tories can make a comeback depends not so much on Cameron's make-over as the extent to which anger against Labour can outweigh the memories of the Tories' past record.
Whenever Blair does step down, there will be a new Labour leader by the time of the general election, most likely Gordon Brown. In the minds of some people this change at the top will signify some hope of a return to "old Labour values". The reality is of course that Brown will continue on the same fundamental course as Blair.
The fact that leaders' personalities play such a part is a reflection of the ending of Labour's traditional role as a "workers' party", despite always having a leadership that accommodated itself to capitalism. It was Blair himself who promoted the "presidential" style of leadership.
However, events will be the key to the result of the next general election: what happens in the economy, struggles of workers against the attacks on jobs, pensions and services and so on.
No doubt the Labour leadership will be using the threat of a return of the Tories as a means to try to keep Labour votes, and as an argument against any socialist or working-class candidates. But for millions of people the reality will be: "What is the difference?"
The only way to break out of any cycle of government by one big business party or another is to create a new one. This is why the Socialist Party has been campaigning for the creation of a new mass workers' party that can provide an alternative to war, privatisation, cuts in services and living standards.
In The Socialist 1 June 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Environment: Nuclear power
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party workplace news