Dead Men Left

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Tories, once more

In a somewhat rambling and inconsequential fashion, I mentioned breifly last week that the Tories give an appearance of near-terminal decline. Set against that, it appears that donations to the party have picked up under Michael Howard:

Donors gave more than £1.8m to the party in the first three months of the year, nearly double the figure for the first quarter of 2002.

The Tories financial concerns, principally their £2.4m deficit, stem largely from their astonishingly high operating costs - some £16m a year, compared to £6.5m for Labour. (Some tightening of belts is in order, perhaps. Cutting back on restrictive practices.) Have largely created the conditions for its emergence, they appear to be dealing with the transition to a managerial politics far less well than Labour: their attempts to build a highly centralised, rationalised party machine (with focus groups, telephone polling, and all the accoutrements), as began under William Hague and as necessary in the absence of a mass membership, seem destined to disappear in bureaucratic inefficiencies. Even with increased party donations, they are adapting themselves singularly badly to a post-Thatcher, neoliberal world. Anthony King has claimed this is simply the fault of a weak leadership; the conditions prevailing upon the Tory Party - its declining and elderly membership, its more immediate failure to advance in recent by-elections - render any strong leaderhsip almost impossible to achieve. It has been unable to deliver a clear, pragmatic message, whilst also failing to take advantage of the "repoliticisation" of conventional politics through the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. The Tories were left meekly trailing the Labour government as a re-emergent left set the oppositional agenda. Recent attempts by Howard to cash in on Iraq have been rightly met with derision, though his relatively successful shaping of the oppostion to top-up fees (much to the left's disgust) can be counted to his credit.

The obduracy of its remaining membership has meant their exclusion from the supposedly more democratic party structures introduced by William Hague: the selection of Michael Howard as leader was stitched-up by Conservative MPs, concerned that the membership could be trusted to pick the sensible, centre-right candidate. It may be, however, that ordinary Tories have a better grasp of the situation than the Parliamentary leadership: with the party unable to significantly eat into a pragmatic, managerial centre dominated by New Labour, a clear alternative would be to annul its existence as a centre-right party block, and lurch over to greet its natural allies in UKIP. I am certain many Tories would rather have Kilroy-Silk as one of theirs - and, given the farcical proceedings of UKIP in the European Parliament, perhaps Kilroy-Silk now thinks likewise.