But the fact remains this: the Tories are ahead in the 60 most marginal UK Parliamentary Constituencies, and Young Dave is more than likely to succeed Gordon Brown as Prime Minister later this year.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear either that Dave may have only a very small overall majority (we have a lot of minority Parties in the UK), or even that he will find that he has the largest number of MP’s in the newly-elected Parliament, but without an overall majority – what we charmingly and somewhat grotesquely call a ‘hung’ Parliament (http://tinyurl.com/ydhghmn). And yes, we’ve heard all the jokes…
Now, contrary to what most of the pundits in the UK are speculating, I think that, in such circumstances, Dave is going to have difficulty governing with any consistency. Not because of his inability to keep the opposing Parties at bay. But due to the newfound, frisky independence of his own MP’s.
Just to set this in context. We all know that the underlying theme of Obama’s first year in office, and his continuing travails with healthcare reform, is how to keep the ranks of Senate Democrats lined up behind his proposals, so that Republicans cannot filibuster their passage – the so-called Super Majority of 60 Senators.
British Prime Ministers normally do not have such problems. In the UK Parliament, our Party Whips are more than mere window-dressing. They do actually wield power. And the tactics they use to ensure that every last one of the Prime Minister’s MP’s vote ‘Yes’ would make even the most extreme political dominatrix blush.
My favorite is what we call the Three Line Whip - http://tinyurl.com/yc2mqqk - which is basically a penalty flag, red card and air raid siren, all rolled into one. You defy one of these babies, and you are declaring that you became an MP because you really, really wanted to spend the rest of your life reviewing pest control problems in the Outer Hebrides.
The problem is that Dave (who as a politician, makes a pretty good Eton-educated barrow boy; he is to public relations what Lucifer is to sin)…where was I?...oh yes…Dave, in his all-consuming drive to return the Tories to government, after 13 years in the wilderness, has made sure that he hasn’t missed a trick to convince the British electorate of his sincerity.
That includes establishing himself as the Alpha and Omega when it comes to responding to the public’s disgust with professional politicians. No more, exclaims Dave. The Tories are now the Party of political purity.
Last summer, he issued an invitation for folks, who were not Tories, to apply to be his Members of Parliament. Every chosen Parliamentary Candidate has to sign a form undertaking that, in the event of a conflict of conscience between an elected MP’s own views and the interests of his constituents on the one hand, versus what his own Party and Prime Minister are urging on the other hand, the Tory MP must choose his conscience and constituents. Which effectively consigns the Tory Parliamentary Whips Office to toilet detail.
Of course, you say, no Tory MP is actually going to defy his Prime Minister. I mean, he or she wants to curry favor in order to get a plum job. Right? Not so fast. After this next Election, it may not be as simple as that.
The Tories are likely to be hanging on to government by their fingertips (you’ll have noticed lots of hanging references in British Parliamentary jargon). In order to win, the Tories will have to capture about 150-200 Parliamentary Seats from the other Parties – the largest electoral swing to the Tories since 1930. This new intake of Tory MP’s will be the single largest influx of Tory MP’s in one Election in history.
It will be the clearest representation possible of the irrefutable volatility of the British electorate. A volatility which is daily being recorded in those rollercoaster polls. An electorate which can swing so wildly one way, one day can just as quickly and violently swing the other way, the next day. Your average newbie Tory MP is going to know that. And they’re going to know that the job they want to protect is the one they already have (MP), rather than holding out hope for a job they might never get (Minister).
Time was, even a few decades ago, we all knew which were the safe seats and which the unsafe, for any given Party. Yet, boundaries have changed so much in the past couple of decades, politics has been so uncertain, that no-one really knows what the new ‘safe’ is. Every single one of those 150-200 new Tory MP’s (out of a total of about 350-400 Tory MP’s) is going to be sitting on what they will still regard as a marginal seat. That’ll make them more likely to want to please their new constituents, rather than their new Prime Minister.
Add to this the fact that, again, in his never-ending campaign to return the Tories to power, Dave insisted that seats choose their Candidates as early as possible in this last Parliamentary cycle, and that chosen Candidates then move lock, stock and barrel into their seats. None of this commuting to the country from the London ‘burbs. Dave wanted each and every one of his Candidates to be able to say, after a couple of years, ‘hey, I’m local, too.’
In his newfound progressivism, Dave also ‘invited’ all of his Candidates to undertake a welter of ‘social action’ projects in their respective constituencies, the more to ingratiate themselves with their chosen ‘locals.’
The upshot of all this is, when push comes to shove, most of this new intake of Tory MP’s is likely to turn around and say, ‘er, Dave, I’m just as responsible as you for my getting elected; I’ve got to consider my constituents if I want to keep the seat; nothing is certain with my constituents; and, by the way, you told me to put my constituents before you…so…sod off.’
It gets worse. The Party attaining power after an Election has to find about 150-190 MP’s to form a Government and fill important associated Parliamentary positions. Dave is highly unlikely to form a Government made up of MP’s who’ve only just been elected. So, he’s going to have to use the boys and girls who are already there. Who are not necessarily the ones calling for the Great Dave Progressive Revolution.
So. There may be something of a lag in Dave being able to introduce all those wonderful, radical ideas that he is convinced will (a) reform GB; and (b) ensure his re-election. Rendering even more wobbly his powers of persuasion when it comes to those newly-independent MP’s. Who, as I’ve just said, will be on the backbenches, not in Government. As a general rule, the Headboy tends to have more sway with his fellow Prefects than with the guys having a quick smoke behind the cricket pavilion…
Those nervous MP’s might be better persuaded if the Headboy was having demonstrable success on the national stage, rather than having to negotiate every day with a bunch of go-slow, has-beens from a previous era. An era which was visibly more right-wing than Dave’s current precocious and fragile progressive perch.
In other words, in his first year, Dave could be getting it from both ends. A Government made up of old-timey MP’s, who yearn for the days of Iron Maggie [Thatcher], and who may be a little leery of Dave’s touchy-feely ‘hug-a-hoodie’ approach. And a whole flock of backbenchers too new to be in Government, anxious at any sign of a lack of public progress, and nervously glancing over their shoulders at their constituents’ ever-changing outlook (http://tinyurl.com/yata6ba).
Add to this the fact that whoever is elected is going to face a smorgasbord of intractable problems – runaway government debt; an economy that could deflate if public spending cuts are too severe; and two wars in lands where the British have a history of getting a bloody nose. The chances are that Dave could be facing an inevitable one-term administration (not unlike Obama) – and I’m pretty certain all of the new intake of Tory MP’s will be painfully aware of this possibility also.
AND. Yes, it never ends! There is one other entity to which a Tory MP must pay constant obeisance – his or her Constituency Association. It matters not if you are an MP who was ever so graciously and delicately ‘parachuted’ into a seat by Central Conservative Campaign HQ. The Association retains the right to deselect you and find another.
The Associations are, at least for the moment, somewhat to the right of Our Dave. Look, some of them (cf. Norfolk, Suffolk, et al - http://tinyurl.com/yzmbcnl) are to the right of Attila the Hun and Cardinal Richelieu. As a general rule, Associations will pretty much back anyone or anything that puts the Tories back in Government. But not necessarily this time.
In addition to being a tad unhappy about some of Dave’s ‘wetter’ policy initiatives, the goodly folk in Association Land are definitely up in arms about his attempts to impose his chosen Candidates on Associations, which fiercely protect their prerogative to choose their own Candidates and MP’s (http://tinyurl.com/ygz6k3d).
At the slightest sign of anything other than overwhelming success by Dave at the top, it may well be that these Associations will exact their revenge by replacing their ‘wet’ Flopsy Mopsy, MP with something a little more ‘dry’ – say, Sir Hunting Horsewhip, MP. [Er…’wet’ = progressive; ‘dry’ = Thatcherite…for my US Friends.]
Are you beginning to sense a potential trend here? Far from being a wave of New Tory progressivism, Dave’s election may well herald a return of old-style Thatcherism. First, with the old-timers he may have to call on to man his new Government. And then, with a new intake of MP’s nervous about failure and anxious of what their Associations might do to them (
Where it gets really interesting is how Dave decides he has to react to such a trend. Let’s back up a bit. If this coming Election leaves the UK with a hung Parliament, the word is that Dave will introduce the Budget he wants (regardless of old-timer MP’s, new intake, Associations or constituents), and then dare the opposing Parties to reject it.
Whether they do or not, it is highly likely that we will see another Election within the year. I do not think that that Election will have any more clear a result than the first. In which event, Dave has already indicated that he is not unwilling to make overtures to the middle-of-the-road Liberal Democrats (http://tinyurl.com/ybjyvgu).
Your average hot-blooded Tory Constituency activist would rather walk on hot coals, and then feed them to his progeny, than join forces with the Liberal Democrats. But Dave wants power. Or rather, his Notting Hill-set Tories want power that badly. And that’s his position now – he’d do a deal with the progressive Liberal Democrats to attain or stay in power.
Let’s say in this next Election, or a second, after the first leaves us with a hung Parliament, let’s say Dave ends up with a smallish overall majority or a second hung Parliament. Let’s say he finds it difficult, nigh on impossible, to negotiate a path through his now frisky and more right-wing old-timers/Associations/fearful new intake, et al, on the one hand, and Liberal Democrats on the other. Let’s say it all ends in yet another Vote of Confidence in Parliament (the convention being that, if you lose one of those, you have to call another Election). Throwing all of that into the pot, might Dave decide re-alignment is the answer?
I mean, I’ll give him a little credit. I think he may be a genuine progressive. Whether I’m right on that or not, Dave definitely understands politics and public relations, and feels as much fealty to old-style Thatcherism as a hermit crab feels to an old shell (http://tinyurl.com/yk7wmvs).
I think that Dave knows that a lurch to the right would spell doom for his Party in any ensuing Election. The future, at least for the moment resides in the middle.
I’m not sure how it would happen, but in the light of all my Sunday-morning meanderings above, I have an inkling that, within the next ten years, we might see a major re-alignment in British politics: Dave (and the likes of the Miliband Brothers (Labour) and Nick Clegg, Vince Cable (Liberal Democrats)) leading a new (what?) Liberal Conservative Party; the Tory right joining forces with UKIP; and a substantial rump of the old Labour Party (100 MP’s?) remaining, well, the old Labour Party.
And one final prediction? If that new Liberal Conservative combo doesn’t finally put the issues of Europe and immigration to rest, then, within twenty years, I’m guessing we’ll have a very reactionary Tory/UKIP Government in Great Britain – likely, with Daniel Hannan as Prime Minister…