Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/319/9725
After the Tory conference
Can The Nasty Party Win Again?
MICHAEL PORTILLO described this year's Tory Party conference as "horrible, dejected, miserable, talking about the leadership all the time - the worst conference anyone could remember".
After the conference, the Tories appeared to overtake New Labour in one poll commissioned for the Mail on Sunday. But virtually no one, including the Tories themselves, believed that this would be a continuing trend. Hence the bitter infighting that has erupted since the conference.
The problems the Tory Party face are enormous. The government is deeply unpopular; Tony Blair is seen as untrustworthy, public services are getting worse.
By all logic the opposition party, the Tories, ought to lead in every opinion poll. Instead the Tories face the possibility of being pushed into third place by the Liberal Democrats. As Portillo said in The Guardian: "How much must they [the public] hate us if they hate us more than this lot [New Labour]?"
The Tories still bear the mark of Cain for the crimes they committed in their 18 years in power. At the same time New Labour has largely stolen their policies, leaving them thrashing around to find a way of differentiating themselves. And they have one of the least charismatic leaders in the history of politics.
So whether or not IDS is found guilty of allegations about his wife/secretary, his survival as Tory Party leader is in question. However, removing him would not solve the problem, as many Tory grandees realise.
There is no single 'unifying' candidate and it is far from certain that more 'electable' figures such as Ken Clarke would want to lead the Tory Party given the likely prospect of defeat at the next election.
OF COURSE, socialists can only rejoice at the Tory Party's suffering. A glimpse of the nightmare that would be a new Tory government was shown by the policies showcased at this year's conference.
On one or two issues they have announced populist measures, such as the abolition of tuition fees and the restoration of the link between earnings and pension levels, to try and capture those disillusioned with New Labour.
But the main thrust of their policies is to try to outdo New Labour in cutting and privatising public services. On asylum Oliver Letwin, Shadow Home Secretary, is proposing to send all asylum seekers to an island "far, far away" although he had no idea which island was going to agree.
Hard to imagine as it is, it can't be precluded that the Tories will overtake New Labour at some point in the future. None of the major political parties today are popular, as turnout in elections clearly demonstrates.
But, given the lack of an alternative to the big three, all of which are pro-capitalist parties pursuing policies of cuts and privatisation, disillusionment with New Labour could lead to the Tories one day being re-elected.
Distant prospect as this seems, no doubt New Labour will use it to try and keep working-class people voting for them rather than moving to found a new party, a party which actually stands up for working-class interests.
The same argument was used by the Liberals against the Labour Party when it was formed a century ago. And as socialists, while we have no desire to see a return of the Tories, nor can we countenance a future of choosing between two different brands of big business politics.
In The Socialist 18 October 2003:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
War and occupation
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
International socialist news and analysis