Conference Season. That time when the most zealous party activists seem to unite like evangelical congregations, bonded in one space to discuss how they can spread their saving message to the masses.
And of course, last week, it was the turn of Conservative Party to do just that at their annual conference. And just like an Evangelical Church, the Conservatives tried to promote themselves as being lit with the flame of a quasi-spiritual revival. Instead of the Holy Spirit being the fuel for such revival, this Church’s fuel came from the not-so-divine source of Brexit, or perhaps more accurately the democratic impetus to get Brexit delivered.
The Conservatives seemed to use the time to convince us that the revival was to begin with Brexit, but was in no way to be limited to it. Leading the way was a plethora of ideas coming out of this revival, Sajid Javid announced a new National Living Wage of £10.50 an hour, Robert Buckland announced that certain criminal offenses would now mean lifelong sentences, in the old “life means life” mantra.
In the usual pattern, you would expect Boris Johnson as PM and leader of his Party, to be the one to deliver this optimism to its summit. With these new ideas and a Brexit to be delivered (with the Party’s very survival quite possibly on the line), the impetus for optimism has been a necessary component of the Conservative Party survival strategy.
Although, I have to admit, watching Boris’ speech, something felt missing from Boris’ usual bombast and fanfare. Of course, Boris may have been trying to refine himself into a statesmanlike demeanour, the pressure of the nation upon him at such a junction point of the crisis. But I have to admit this explanation couldn’t satisfy what I felt watching. I have to admit I felt Boris was something I never thought he could be; deflated. Not completely lifeless, but certainly like a part of his usual self was missing.
To be honest, I actually think that if Boris was deflated because he had felt the pressure, it would be Boris who would be more in tune with the nation, and the reality of the Conservative Party’s fortunes.
The thing is, the “DUDE” strategy unveiled by Boris Johnson on his successful election as Conservative Party leader, has always been simplistic, deliberately ignorant of the opposition that stands in its way.
Let’s suppose that Boris Johnson is successful in delivering Brexit, whether it be in the proposed deal to the EU, or he somehow manages to get us out with no deal despite the Benn Act. The problem is there is still an opposition to be defeated.
Fine, the opposition is currently engaged in a piffle argument over Jeremy Corbyn being leader of a “National Unity” Government, Make no mistake about it, this opposition is just as determined by their cause, by their message, as the Conservatives are, and to be honest perhaps a bit more so.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour I am convinced, are more desperate to win power than any other party in Parliament, burning with a desire for radical socialism as the future of our nation, albeit one moderated by the reality of an anti-socialist political class around them. The Lib Dems, the SNP, the Greens are fuelled by the desire to end Brexit, this desire also burning within them.
Dividing the opposition in this way has so far staved off the opposition’s advances has massively benefited Boris Johnson. But the problem is, when a General Election comes, minds inevitably get concentrated, with the future of the nation at stake with the outcome. I fear the dire polling of the currently Labour Party and the prospect of a Conservative win could bring all sides together and highlight that there is an intersection between the opposition parties and their motivations: the Remain Alliance.
If all opposition parties remain as enthused by their desires and motivations, such a prospect of losing their goals may motivate them to work together for the sake of a win, in a political version of the prisoner’s dilemma. If they accept some form of punishment, Corbyn having to be moderated by opposition parties in a potential future government and the Lib Dems having to accept a Jeremy Corbyn government as a possibility, they both gain something of what they want, rather than selfishly clinging to their overall goal and risk getting a worse punishment by losing their goal.
Regardless, I think the notion of revolutionary desires and passions is the thing that could potentially hurt Boris Johnson’s strategy the most. It is OK for Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party to claim to be the optimistic party, the party that will use Brexit as the springboard for radical change with a “free the market, free the enterprise” approach. But, deep down, we do need to see the detail, and to be honest, if the proposals at conference seem anything to go by, nothing much seems to have changed from what came before.
The minimum wage continuing to rise? We’ve already had that several times. Lifelong sentences for certain criminal offences? That does nothing to stop the mollycoddling state of prison life for inmates and the outrageous rates of reoffending the modern “rehabilitation” approach produces. Under the spotlight of a General Election campaign, this Hulk of a revolution may appear to be nothing more than a damp squib for a useless status quo no one wants any more.
And waiting in the wings, to scoop up those who recognise no revolution is really coming is the only person who has ever actually proposed a revolution… Jeremy Corbyn. I know, the response of many might be “But Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour are useless, nobody would vote for them”. True, but water remains wet. Jeremy Corbyn was useless two years ago, but that didn’t stop Labour from eroding the majority of the Conservative Government, and Jeremy Corbyn remaining in his position after two of his opposite counterparts were forced to resign.
The point is, ignore the genuine desire for something to change, and you have ignored the issue that any election would really be about. You only need to look at the pattern of election results in the past few years to figure out the desire to change underpins it all. The Labour Party’s surge in 2017, the abandonment of the two major parties at the 2019 council elections, the Brexit Party dominance in 2019 at the EU elections.
The Brexit’s Party’s slogan of “Change Politics for Good” sums up the mood best. Any political party that can genuinely bring change about, and for people to feel it, is the one that I suspect will conquer the system for a long time to come. For that reason, I think it right that enthusiasm, if necessary for the Conservatives as a strategy, is not the most accurate reflection of the Conservative Party’s fortunes as it stands.
As with all post-Brexit politics, there are too many variables at play to assume that nothing much needs to change. On the contrary, everything needs to change, and unless the Conservatives can prove it, trouble lies ahead.