Voices: Chin up, Rishi – there are still a few reasons for the Tories to be cheerful

The Tory party has proved remarkably adaptable and able to move with the times when it wants to (via Reuters)
The Tory party has proved remarkably adaptable and able to move with the times when it wants to (via Reuters)

Being a compassionate fellow, and even though I’ve never voted Conservative (if that’s a clue), I’m moved by the plight of the party. I know they’re a bunch of mountebanks, cheats and crooks – and occasionally all three can be combined in some of their leading personalities – but at times it feels as though they’re being subjected to a punishment beating.

Obviously, many voters feel betrayed by them, not to mention deceived, and many of their scandals, including the latest insider betting affair, are entirely a result of their own venal natures. But come on. They’re being pulped so hard that there may be nothing left by 5 July. You can hear the desperation in their voices as they implicitly concede defeat and beg to be left with enough MPs to mount a decent opposition to the “socialist one-party state”.

The quality of mercy is not strained, so I’d like to cheer them up by offering a few reasons for the Tories to be cheerful. Yes, cheerful. After all, things can only get better...

First, forget about Reform UK. They won’t get more votes than you, whatever they say, and they will get only a few MPs. Yes, Nigel Farage will have a base in the Commons, but he’ll make a poor parliamentarian and is far too lazy to take it seriously. He’ll be bored, and he and the rest of his small collection of fruitcakes will argue with each other, drop endless gaffes, and split, as their predecessors in the European parliament did, and as the hard right always do.

They’re a fractious bunch at the best of times, and they’ll be bitterly divided on whether they want to join a changed Tory party, merge with it, or destroy it. Hold your nerve, take them on for a change, and stay focused on the middle ground, and you’ll have a chance of getting back into power in a few years.

Indeed, that may happen as soon as the next election. This election will prove what has been true for some time, which is that the voters are less tribal and more volatile than ever. In contrast even to, say, the 1990s, there must be very few people out there who can say they always vote for the same party, even in general elections, and never abstain. The Conservatives – not the Liberal Democrats, or Farage’s virtual party – are the only plausible alternative government. If people are eventually disillusioned with Labour, then they’ll really have no other choice.

Will the Starmer administration become unpopular? You bet (if you’ll pardon the expression). There are very tough times ahead, and it’s fair to say that, one way or another, an organised Tory opposition can make the best of them.

Rachel Reeves always says she won’t need to raise taxes for anything that is in the Labour manifesto. Correct. That just leaves the mass of expensive problems that aren’t mentioned in the manifesto. In no particular order, they are: annual NHS winter crises (for which they will resort to “sticking plasters”, just like the Tories did); some sort of crunch in adult social care, probably linked to the widespread financial crisis in local authorities, which will need cash injections; the collapse and subsequent financial rescue of some universities; a hurried ramping up of defence spending; and persistently slightly high inflation, which will keep interest rates higher than ideal.

As for growth, how they’re going to make the UK the fastest-growing economy in the G7 is at best unclear (especially as Reeves can’t exercise any control over how quickly France, Italy, Canada, America, Japan or Germany expand). There will be much for a skilful opposition to exploit. Starmer hasn’t abolished the electoral cycle.

The Tories also ought to view their imminent slaughter as an opportunity. Losing the experience and wisdom of Liz Truss, for example – perfectly acceptable. Would they really miss the leadership skills of Suella Braverman? The popular appeal of Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Boris Johnson won’t actually want to get back into the Commons, because he won’t be allowed to be leader again, and he’s not a team player. He’s also a liability, being associated so closely with the Brexit flop. Forget the nostalgia for the 2019 election and think back to Partygate, lying to the Commons and the sleaze. Better off without him.

There will be some new blood arriving, with new ideas, fresh faces and less baggage. If Tory MPs could stop banging on about Europe, keep their hands to themselves and stay honest, they could be back in 2028 or 2029. And don’t forget – you’ve still got most of the press on side.

Whatever Rishi Sunak gets will be a historically low base. Your party machine has been hollowed out and made virtually extinct in many of our great cities, as well as in Scotland and Wales. There’s already been a wipeout in local government and the mayoralties. Young people hate you.

Excellent – because all of these things are reversible. They are not God-given eternal truths. But the one eternal truth in virtually any democratic polity not distorted by nationalism is that there’s always going to be a large, broadly based right-wing party, just as there is for a counterpart left constituency.

That role has been played by the Tories for two centuries, and the party has proved remarkably adaptable and able to move with the times when it wants to. Rapid recovery can be achieved, and the proof of that is actually what will happen on 4 July – the landslide victory of a Labour Party that was written off for a generation less than five years ago. Keir Starmer did it for his party; there may, therefore, be somebody who can do it for the Conservatives... if they’ll let him or her.

Churchill, Heath, Thatcher and Cameron all managed to rebuild their party from opposition in remarkably short time, once the Tories had decided they wanted to win again.

Cheer up, then, you dreadful, disgraced, battered bunch. You’ll be back.