On one hand, yeah, it looks like carelessness – the Conservative Party has lost two MPs in the last couple of weeks and now stands to definitely lose another whenever the next General Election comes around. On the other hand, there’s something inevitably familiar about the reasons for all three quitting: Sleaze. After being exposed as the Tory Member whose in-House search for tractor websites naturally led him to online porn, Neil Parish was faced with little choice but to voluntarily walk the plank. The MP for Tiverton and Honiton’s grubby escapades in the Chamber have prompted the same old calls for a reform of Parliament and its ‘institutional misogyny’, just as we had five years ago when Michael Fallon’s resignation as Defence Secretary after admitting to touching Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee prompted the circulation of a clandestine and eye-opening ‘hit list’ of MPs behaving badly that some of us perused at the time. If anything had been done to sort the problem out back then, we maybe wouldn’t be where we are now; but there you go.
Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate, isn’t on his way straight away – thus sparing his party another by-election; but he’s announced he will be when this current Parliament runs its course either next year or the year after. An MP since 1997, Blunt has been dogged by calls for him to quit ever since he somewhat foolishly defended fellow Tory, Imran Ahmad Khan, who has only just surrendered his seat following his recent conviction for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008. Khan was part of the new intake of Tories who smashed the ‘Red Wall’ in 2019, turning Wakefield blue for the first time. Questions over his original selection as a candidate have been raised (when rumours about his dubious behaviour were apparently circulating beforehand), but his conviction has led to him being appointed Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, which is a very polite Parliamentary description for the sack. Actually, perhaps this quaintly meaningless title should be bestowed upon anyone being fired from any job. ‘How come you’re home early from work, luv?’ ‘Bloody boss called me into his office and told me I’d been appointed Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. Bastard.’
All of this comes in the wake of Barnard Castle and Matt Hancock and ‘Partygate’ and Rishi’s missus and a pervasive, putrid stench of rotting reputations, not unlike the same odious odour that emanated from the Conservative Party in the early 1960s and – especially – the mid-1990s. All parties that have been in Government for a decade or more slowly see their mortal remains begin to decay and disintegrate after that length of time, but the Tories always seem to do it so much better than anyone else. And now the electorate has the opportunity to make its feelings known towards the governing party at the ballot box, with the local elections taking place tomorrow. The previous occasion in which most of the seats up for grabs on 5 May were contested was way back in 2018, and it’s fair to say a hell of a lot has happened since then. And yes, folks, that’s what they call an understatement.
Last year’s local elections were undertaken at the time of Covid restrictions and left the Tories in a relatively strong state after their first test since the sweeping victory of 2019; at the time, their impressive gains were attributed to a post-vaccine bounce, when the speed and success of the roll-out gave people the impression the end of the pandemic was nigh. By contemporary standards, it was a fairly optimistic moment. This time round, the mood of the nation has altered yet again and it’ll be interesting to see how much of the ire directed towards the party during a cost-of-living crisis will be reflected in the way people vote. Only the most diehard and deluded still see Boris as an electoral asset, yet one could argue the Tories’ (and the PM’s) most effective electoral asset remains the Labour Party. The shadow of Brexit, the toxic legacy of Corbyn, and the scourge of Identity Politics are three factors that continue to drive a deep wedge between Labour and its one-time hardcore support base in the old Northern heartlands. Labour may well score points on campus and amongst the metropolitan middle-classes, but until the party reconnects with the far greater numbers that always stood by it in less affluent locations it’ll never be returned to power. Local elections tend to be an interesting means of gauging how far Labour has come or how far it has continued to fall behind actual public opinion rather than the minority opinions of MSM mouthpieces and broadsheet elites the party seems to use as an ill-advised yardstick.
The one thing in Labour’s favour is the fact that London – which appears to be its new heartland – will see the contesting of every seat in every borough, meaning there are over 1,800 of them to fight for, and the omens are good. However, success for Labour in the capital when it comes to these local elections could present the party with one more superficial impression of its resurrection as a potential party of government, as it doesn’t yet appear to have realised that what happens in London largely stays in London. The rest of the country remains unmoved by what Labour has to offer. A year ago, the party performed badly in the local elections and lost the Hartlepool by-election as a pre-match warm-up, but even if it does better in 2022 than it managed in 2021 – and it would take something special to do worse – the fact that the majority of the seats on offer tomorrow are in Labour-leaning areas will again give the party a distorted picture of its popularity if it does as well as expected; after all, in the 2018 local elections, Labour gave the Tories the best bloody nose it had landed since 2012 and yet was still trounced at the General Election the following year.
Perhaps the Tories needn’t be too concerned about Labour and should instead concentrate more on the Lib Debs, whose post-proroguing ‘detoxification’ and return to their familiar protest vote status could be perceived as more of a threat. That said, the Tories are lucky that few of the locations where their traditional popularity is waning are on offer this time round; the sense of relief in Conservative circles that the Home Counties will only constitute a tiny portion of the battleground on Thursday means worries over a potential Lib Dem challenge will be minimised. Labour’s failure to reconnect with its ex-Red Wall regions has also left Tory support staying fairly strong in the old blue collar ex-industrial towns Labour abandoned, so the party should be safe in those areas.
Regardless of Thursday’s events, the Tories are already looking ahead to the next General Election, devising what they have called an ‘80-20 strategy’, which refers to keeping the 80 marginal constituencies they hold and capturing a further 20 they’ve earmarked as potential gains. With the threat of Rishi Sunak as the most likely contender to stand against Boris now seemingly neutralised, the PM can breathe a sigh of relief that his ninth life has proven to be as jammy as the eight before it. He is the most fortunate of Prime Ministers, a man entirely unsuited for the prestige of his office yet surrounded by mediocrities in his own party and confronted by an Opposition comprising a fair share of its own mediocrities, none more so than the man who leads it.
This week’s local elections may well contain a sizeable amount of protest votes that serve as a comment on the way the Tories have been performing at a national level, but even if Labour and the Lib Dems do well, it’s still a long way from a General Election. That the governing party is led by a serial philanderer and liar who was charged by the police for committing a criminal offence and yet has simply kept calm and carried on without fear of losing his job is something that says everything about where we are and how we get the politicians we deserve. Then again, if you’re concerned about bin collections, cast your vote.
© The Editor