The next General Election in the UK is likely to be at least a year away, but already the two major political parties are moving into overdrive with national conferences and pronouncements from senior party figures.
After their successful local Council election results in early May Labour is increasingly occupying the centre ground, recognising that this is where victory lies. Bizarrely the Conservatives are coming to the opposite conclusion.
Former Home Secretary Priti Patel, speaking to the so-called Conservative Democracy Organisation in Bournemouth, sounded initially as if she had learned the lessons of their Council losses. She said: “Our mistakes have cost us dearly…. we are stronger when we are united……. history shows the terrible consequences of bad ideas, and we must rediscover our values”. Absolutely correct. She added that she was sorry that it was “errors and mistakes sometimes of us in Westminster and our actions that have cost our party clearly.” Correct again.
But the rest of her speech confirmed that she thought it was other people’s bad ideas which were responsible rather than those of her Right-wing colleagues. There was no mention of the cost-of living crisis, the lack of affordable housing or the collapse in public services – just the predictable call for lower taxes (naturally applauded).
She observed that “the members represent the most authentic values of the Conservative party” which is true but that is the problem rather than the solution. It was the membership which voted for Liz Truss, and the disasters that followed. It was the membership which years earlier voted for the lightweight Leader Iain Duncan Smith, who was another predictable failure. “Our mistakes have cost our party dearly”…..Exactly.
Conservative members are not representative of current Conservative party voters, who in turn are not representative of the original ‘One Nation’ Conservative and Unionist party which has been hijacked by the Right for too long. Moving even further to the Right is hardly the answer when the country increasingly sees public services as the priority and is moving further to the Left.
Yet Right-wingers were also in full voice at a three-day National Conservatism Conference in London, an organisation dedicated to pursuing “the best path forward for a democratic world confronted by a powerful new Marxism at home (sic!)” Keynote speaker Kevin Roberts, President of the Heritage Foundation, a US think-tank, claimed that leftwingers “wanted to end all democracy to impose their opinions on the world”. Home Secretary Suella Braverman insisted the key national priority was for more British people to be trained as lorry drivers and fruit pickers. MP Miriam Coates said the top priority for the UK was a higher birth-rate. Lord Frost, architect of the flawed Brexit trade agreement, proclaimed: “It’s our job to change the politics: to persuade voters that the country is on a wrong path, that the socialist and collectivist solutions currently offered won’t work, and that another way forward is not only necessary but practically possible.” This other way is to move further to the Right. Which planet are these people on?
Speaking at the Progressive Britain conference, Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer succinctly summarised the position stating how the current Conservative party was no longer Conservative: “It conserves nothing we value – not our rivers and seas, not our NHS or BBC, not our families, not our nation.” He then set out what is starting to emerge as a credible Labour vision: “The Labour Party will only restore hope in the country if we once again become the natural vehicle for working people, an agent for their hopes and aspirations, a party of the common good.” Very different from the vision of Priti Patel.
Liberal Democrats and Greens are also on the march, recognising that while Conservatives are tacking Right the country is moving to the Left. Demand for food banks is increasing, cost-of living pressures continue, and mortgages are going up for those lucky enough to afford a property. Public services are short of funds, yet the Right calls for tax cuts. Common sense calls for closer ties with the EU to offset some of the ongoing damage of Brexit, yet the European Research Group continues to demand the removal of all EU laws on the UK statute book, even though the UK helped draft these same laws when inside the EU.
Meanwhile darling of the Right Liz Truss is busy bashing China on her visit to Taiwan, deliberately undermining Rishi Sunak’s attempts to reset relations, and devolution in Ireland remains stalled because Sunak dares not take on the Democratic Unionist Party who continue to boycott Stormont.
No wonder that the Washington Post has said that UK Conservatives are heading Right for the exit. Right wing ideology is not the answer when the country is moving Left.
Moving Right is wrong: Left is right.