Comfortable Mythology

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So farewell then, Michael Howard. Credit where its due, Howard did prevent the Conservative Party from entirely self destructing. Under Iain Duncan Smith, the story beginning to emerge really was that the party was on its last legs. That is no longer the case.

But let’s not get carried away here. The Tory strategy in 2005 was simple: consolidation. If a strong leader had been in place since 2001, they would have been in with a shot. Howard’s brief was to embrace his core support with open arms and hope that Labour were so unpopular that a few moderates would be prepared to come back under the fold despite the most right wing manifesto in the party’s history. It was a shrewd and calculated move, it even worked better than I suspect they had initially though, but it wasn’t an election-winning strategy and Howard knew it.

I have to laugh when I read comments like this:

That is a shame, hopefully the man England elected to be Prime Minister at the last General Election will reconsider and stick around for another term next time round.

This is balls on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.

Firstly, it is another example of how “Conservative and Unionist Party” is becoming an increasingly inaccurate description of the party: the Tories are the least unionist of the main parties these days. The second the Welsh and the Scots were given a bit of autonomy, they dropped hundreds of years of support for the UK like a stone and are slowly reinventing themselves as an English Nationalist party.

Secondly, Howard may have one a plurality in terms of popular vote in England, but that is irrelevant because of the electoral system that the Tories support. You can’t whinge about being robbed on the one hand, and then support the very thing that screwed you over with the next. And no, you can’t simply blame the inbuilt bias on boundaries: simply stated, the Tories have their support spread too thin across the country and nothing will change that.

Thirdly, even if we had used a proportional system AND we had evicted the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish from the Commons, Howard still wouldn’t have been Prime Minister because his manifesto was so toxic. The Lib Dems would have had a moral duty to form a coalition with Labour, not out of any enthusiasm, but because allowing the Conservatives ministerial posts with that dangerous mandate – which was only supported by a third of the electorate – would have been irresponsible.

Michael Howard was the Tories’ fall guy. He had deliberately avoided forming a workable programme for government in favour of enthusing the swivel-eyed loon brigade. He knew it. Don’t kid yourself that he was Prime Ministerial material – instead, celebrate the fact that he bought you a second chance.

6 thoughts on “Comfortable Mythology

  1. It is ironic that the son of an immigrant should align himself with the xenophobic right. But he would not be the first to do so (Barry Goldwater preceded him by a clear 40 years). Howard will be remembered as a shameless opportunist without a shred of political principle. An unattractive individual leading an unattractive party.

    The outcome of the next general election will probably be decided by Rupert Murdoch. And we don’t yet know which way the Digger will jump. Bush and the neocons are believed to be wary of Brown, but they may not want the uncertainty of a hung Parliament, which could be the result of Murdoch backing the Tories.

    For the Lib Dems to advance, the first essential is to win as many seats as possible this coming May, especially those large urban wards in London and the Mets.

    We are unlikely to lose much of the “metropolitan liberal” vote which came our way in 2005 because (a) Labour’s record on civil liberties is still dreadful and (b) Ming Campbell is the politician most associated with opposition to the Iraq War. Out biggest challenge against Labour is winning over urban working-class support. And we will need to do that if we are to take a substantial number of Labour seats.

  2. the Tories are the least unionist of the main parties these days.

    How are the Conservatives the least unionist when they are the only party prepared to stand in all four parts of the United Kingdom?

    As for the voting figures, there are some inbuilt biases is the boundary review – the different rules applied (particularly in combining local authority areas) result in inner East London getting an extra seat whilst south western Surrey does not to take but one case. I don’t believe a boundary review will solve this – for the Conservatives to regain power they need strong support across the country. Even if they were to win every single vote on a huge turnout in the South East and neighbouring areas, and achieve some numeric lead across the land with no votes elsewhere there would be limited moral right to govern for all the country.

  3. Ed,

    He wasn’t a pissartist, no.


    The Tories are the only main party who are proposing to create a two-tier system in Westminster and yet oppose devolution in England, which is the only hope for the union in my view. Their representation in Wales and Scotland is minimal (as is, for that matter, their representation in the North of England). So yes, they are the least unionist.

  4. “This is balls on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.”

    Just so. There was never the remotest chance of Michael Howard being elected Prime Minister. His sole achievements were to bring a degree of professionalism to the job and so prevent the total electoral meltdown that would have occurred under IDS, and to bequeath David Cameron to the party.

  5. James,

    Considering Labour introduced Scottish and Welsh devolution without thinking through the consequences and still harbour a desire to transfer Northern Ireland to the Republic and has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even allow residents in the province to join their party, I question whether they have any union credentials at all.

    Yes the Conservatives are weakly represented in the North, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but they still stand, still seek votes and still have members. It’s just that the party hasn’t proved enticing enough for sufficient voters there to vote for it at the moment. I find the whole “you’re not a party for the whole country; you don’t have any MPs in…” line rather tedious.

    There is little real appetite for an English Parliament and Conservatives tend to resist excess tiers of beuracracy, especially when justified purely by something such as the West Lothian Question. I don’t agree with the “English votes only” solution (though it’s far from unprecedented – a similar solution was proposed for Great Britain in the second Irish Home Rule Bill) but it is a way to try to square the circle and satisfactorally answer all the problems raised. My own solution would be to follow the Northern Irish precedent and really hack back the number of Scottish and Welsh MPs – a reduced but equal voice, a solution which worked at Westminster for fifty years.

    If the Union is to last it needs workable solutions that people will accept, not yet more tiers of beurcracy. It also needs stronger left wing unionism, especially in Scotland, but a centre right party can hardly solve that one!

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