Wednesday, 12 June 2024

Defying the Tide: Why a Leadership Change Won't Rescue the Conservatives in the Unyielding Grip of the Two-Party System

Defying the Tide: Why a Leadership Change Won't Rescue the Conservatives in the Unyielding Grip of the Two-Party System
Wednesday, 08 May 2024 22:39

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Adhering to one of the cardinal rules of British general elections would have spared me considerable embarrassment: breaking the two-party system is a Herculean task. (I'll touch on the other rule shortly.) As long as we cling to first-past-the-post elections, voters instinctively gravitate towards a binary choice between the center-Right and the center-Left. Over time, disillusioned floaters oust the incumbent and usher in the alternative. Though both major parties weather internal storms, they ultimately coalesce to endure, while splinter groups falter. This historical pattern is ingrained in our parliamentary democracy. A seismic shift occurred a century ago when the Liberals waned, yielding ground to Labour, yet the binary dynamic swiftly reasserted itself. In the wake of my misstep post-Hartlepool, the tremors of Covid and Boris Johnson's own missteps began eroding his once unassailable position, providing Sir Keir, lacking in flair but fortified by persistence, an opening. Fast forward three years, and whispers of the Conservative Party's demise echo instead. I refuse to replay the folly of 2021. Despite witnessing the Tories in perhaps their direst straits, and despite the imminent dawn of a Labour era, the notion of Britain sans a Conservative Party seems remote. Enter the Reform Party—not a standalone phenomenon, but an epiphenomenon, a byproduct. While it may siphon off some Labour votes beyond the Tories' reach, its genesis lies in the Conservative Party's tribulations. Our political system's natural rhythm dictates that after defeat, a mainstream party regroups, rejuvenates, and the cycle persists.

Since the political twilight of Margaret Thatcher, we've seen a succession of challengers: the Referendum party, Ukip, and the Brexit Party, later rebranded as Reform (pardon any omissions). Cumulatively, they've left a mark, yet none have prevailed. The Tories have commanded the helm for 21 of the past nearly 34 years. Reflecting on this cycle, they'll discern that desperate attempts to break it will only exacerbate matters.

In the annals of history, 69 AD bore witness to the Year of the Four Emperors: Galba succeeded Nero, only to be slain by Otho, who in turn fell to Vitellius before Vespasian ascended in December. While parallels with modern figures like Theresa and Liz, Boris and his deputy Rishi may be tempting, it suffices to highlight that those Tory cohorts clamoring for yet another leader must be intoxicated by turmoil. Consider the primal urge for Penny Mordaunt's ascendancy, fueled merely by the spectacle of her wielding the Coronation sword.

Unlike the Roman Empire, our governance hinges on general elections. While precedent hasn't demanded prime ministers to prevail in such polls prior to office, their legitimacy before both MPs and the public rests on electoral triumph. A portion of the public's disdain for the Tories stems from the perception of being bystanders to fleeting, inconsequential power struggles within the party. The era of Liz Truss epitomized this trend.

What schemers consistently overlook is that triumph in internal skirmishes doesn't automatically translate to broader endorsement. The Tories' peculiar blend of parliamentary and party member votes in leadership contests can yield victories devoid of genuine consensus. To voters, it conveys the exasperating notion that the Tories presume ownership of governmental authority.

While there might be a pervasive desire to oust Rishi Sunak, it's far-fetched to label him as the primary impediment to another Conservative triumph. Moreover, the prerogative to effect change ultimately rests with the electorate. As of my writing, the outcomes in London or the West Midlands remain uncertain, yet Lord Houchen's triumph appears to have quelled the clamor within the party for Mr. Sunak's removal.

I vowed to touch upon the other prudent principle governing British general elections—distinct from local, mayoral, or by-elections, which often magnify outcomes. It's the notion that election results, even those seemingly inconclusive, are always merited. Presently, the Tories appear poised for defeat, yet Labour doesn't seem deserving of victory either. This suggests that a compelling contest lies ahead, brimming with possibility.

In conclusion, while the desire to replace figures like Rishi Sunak may be widespread, attributing the Conservative Party's electoral challenges solely to his leadership would be overly simplistic. Ultimately, the power to effect change lies in the hands of the voters. As we await the final results in key regions like London and the West Midlands, it's evident that Lord Houchen's recent victory has tempered internal party dissent. Moreover, amidst the uncertainty of electoral outcomes, one principle remains steadfast: that election results, however inconclusive they may seem, are always deserved. Presently, neither the Tories nor Labour appear fully deserving of victory, suggesting that a spirited battle lies ahead.

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