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New Conservatives

As the unedifying spectacle of the Conservative party conference grinds on, with the main halls half empty and the fringes full of the manic cheerfulness of the Weimar Republic, it's instructive to take a look at how the party is positioning itself in the face of the challenge from a resurgent Labour.

It isn't.

Rarely can a conference have offered up such a paucity of ideas. In the aftermath of Boris going wildly off piste before insisting that nothing of the sort occurred, and David Davis cheerfully denying that he's cheerfully admitted that he'll be long gone before the Brexit negotiations are concluded (leaving them all to the emperor of tact, Johnson himself) the message seems to have been shut up, hold tight and hopefully this will all blow over. It is Mayism in its rawest form, insist that everything is fine. Do nothing. It is this torpor which allows those who make the most noise, the Johnsons, the Rees-Moggs, to cast themselves as major players, the curious inertia of May and Hammond provides a petri-dish in which a toxic right-wing Toryism, even more repellent to the electorate than this current farrago, can grow unchecked.

The intellectual death of the Conservative party is nothing new, thinking was banished to the sidelines in favour of soundbites many years ago, for which you can thank the Cameron Osborne axis, who learned all the wrong lessons from Tony Blair. Johnson seeming to think that inappropriately quoting Kipling makes him the heir to Disraeli, Amber Rudd grasping desperately at Lynton Crosby to save her skin, they show all the signs of the end days of the Major government, when an outmanouevred Tory dinosaur, mired in sleaze and bereft of philosophical heft was easy meat for Blair's younger, faster, slicker, New Labour. It says something when the only person who hasn't recently dropped a clanger is Michael Gove, and even he's reading George Monbiot these days.

That it is an even older brand of politics which is doing this to them will hurt all the more. In no sense can Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell be accused of youth, but they have succeeded where younger politicians have failed, by galvanising a young vote which has been ignored and patronised since 1997. The initial New Labour landslide was a classic example of diminishing returns, as the Labour party shored up power with a rightward lurch designed not to scare the horses, and it's taken Corbynism to reignite the Labour Party's capacity for radicalism, and for policies which speak to people.

The Conservative response to this has been tepid, at best. Some lip service paid to tuition fees, some guff from Hammond about ensuring the next generation will be wealthier than their parents, no energy to speak of. This is not surprising. Hamstrung by Brexit, and fatally riven by infighting they are unable to concentrate on anything but mere survival. The chancellor is spending his time fighting fires and limiting damage, unable to expend any energy on promoting growth, the Prime Minister is stuck between her own common sense and the baying right, unable to move. If an election were called tomorrow, it wouldn't be pretty.

So it seems reasonable to suggest that the next Conservative prime Minister is somewhere on the back-benches, or possibly not even in parliament yet. If we've learned anything from this conference it is that the Conservative party is terrified of the future. David Willetts' bleak assessment of their future electoral prospects as their voter base dies off has HQ running scared. The aforementioned lip service to tuition fees is the first shot in a war for the soul of the party. Whilst the dogmatic right currently hold sway, it isn't far-fetched to suggest that a centrist lurch from a younger crop of MPs may soon be on the cards. Much as Blair repositioned the Labour party, it isn't inconceivable that even now some bright eyed wonk on a sub-committee somewhere is dreaming up the "New Conservatives", that sound May hears in the distance is the sharpening of knives.


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