In a recent article for The Guardian, Phillip Inman wrote that most of Britain’s ‘over 50’s’ have a fear of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister. This cohort of voters, Inman says, are much more concerned with economic wellbeing and the best hopes – for these people – of maintaining this wellbeing lie with the Conservatives remaining in power, despite Mrs May’s chaotic administration. Furthermore, Inman states, if we zoom up to the over 70’s the vast majority are solidly in favour of the Tories. This is, frankly, not very revealing. I used to joke that the sound of creaking bones could be heard at Tory Party conferences before the clapping began. It is no secret that the vast bulk of elderly voters would be more amenable to voting Conservative than Labour at a general election.
At the present time this can be of little comfort to Britain’s governing party. One doesn’t have to be an expert to know that Mrs May and her cabinet are up to their necks in pressure. But one fact remains in their favour. Economic competence has always been the Tories’ strong point and correspondingly it proves a weakness for Labour, who are more at ease campaigning on public services and social issues. As the writer John O’Farrell once put it, ‘the Conservatives know the price of everything yet the value of nothing’. If a general election were held right now it is likely that Labour would win it, but most probably with a slender majority. This would bring Mr Corbyn into Downing Street although not in the style of a Thatcher or a Blair victory.
A Labour government is not what the Conservatives would like, but for them a small majority might be better than a thumping great one. Mr Corbyn might struggle with the former, but with the latter he could be allowed enough room to push his agenda more firmly. This is no doubt terrifying the Tories with negative anticipation. The picture, however blurred it is, is becoming a bit clearer. If the present government remain in office and play the long game they risk bringing their economic competence into question.
On the other hand, if Mrs May – or her successor – calls a general election within the next year or so, this could give the Tories their best chance to frustrate Labour. An early election is, I am convinced, the best hope the Conservatives have right now. There is a strong likelihood that they’ll lose, but they could make life difficult for Mr Corbyn if the election is held sooner rather than later. The longer it takes them to call the poll the greater damage that they will inflict on themselves. The clock is ticking, as Michel Barnier is fond of reminding us.
Forty years ago, James Callaghan (the then Labour prime minister) struggled to maintain the credibility of his government against an emerging and strong Margaret Thatcher and her party. Within a year or so Mrs Thatcher had got her bandy legs into Downing Street and was pushing her radical agenda on a then unwitting public. Times change and HISTORY DOES NOT REPEAT ITSELF, but I feel a similar fate to that of Mr Callaghan awaits Mrs May.
It is almost impossible to see where any momentum is going to come from to save the Conservatives. The hallmark of the May era has been a litany of soundbites and cleverly crafted speeches and platitudes yet with little in the way of solid action to back up the words and good intentions. Lessons must be learned from the catalogue of mistakes that this government and others have made. Politics must be about lowering expectations and not building up people’s hopes. Perhaps Mr Corbyn might better fill this massive void if he were fortunate enough to be allowed serve as prime minister.