This election heralds the death of the Thatcher-Blair era. A new populist Right will replace it

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, with husband Denis Thatcher, waves to well-wishers outside Number 10 Downing Street following her election victory, on May 4, 1979 in London
Margaret Thatcher's 1979 win transformed British politics for 45 years. But that era is now coming to an end - Tim Graham/Hulton Archive

The election that Rishi Sunak has now called will almost certainly have a decisive result but it will not mark a true turning of the way in British politics. It is rather the last stand of an order that is passing, under growing assault from both sides of the new political spectrum.

Barring a miracle, the Conservative Party will suffer a catastrophic and crushing defeat. Right now the busy betting market is whether they will do worse than their previous low of 156 seats (out of 670) in 1906. There is serious money being wagered that they will get fewer than 100 seats.

The reason for this sentiment is not only Labour’s massive poll lead but the suggestion that there will also be large-scale tactical voting, making many apparently safe seats vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats as well as Labour. This outcome would not reflect any enthusiasm for Labour or for Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves’s agenda.

In that there is a marked contrast to 1997 and 1945. The dominant sentiment among voters (probably leading to a low turnout) is weariness and contempt for the entire political and media class but with visceral hostility and fedupness for the Tories. In many ways this makes it more like 1906, something Keir Starmer and the Labour Party should bear in mind.

This will therefore be a decisive election, one that delivers a clear and crushing verdict on fourteen years of the Conservatives being in power but with no real enthusiasm for the alternative. What it will not be is a realigning election – one that reveals a new and transformed political landscape and voting pattern.

However we did have such an election only five years ago, in 2019. So what has happened? In the years leading up to 2019 there was a realignment of voters, with the older issue of economics losing its salience and being replaced by the new one of nationalism versus cosmopolitan globalism.

In 2019 the Tory Party leaned into that realignment and won over a lot of new voters, in parts of the country they had not reached before. This achieved this thanks to promises of getting Brexit done, levelling up the North and Midlands while moving away from free markets, and controlling and reducing immigration.

Simultaneously they held on to voters who combined cosmopolitanism (Remain voters) with support for free markets, because they had the bonus of facing Jeremy Corbyn.

Had the Conservatives followed through on that, then the new alignment revealed in 2019 would have been consolidated this time. The Conservatives would have made further gains in the North and Midlands but lost seats in the suburban South East and in the South West, to both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The result would have been much tighter and the new alignment and division would have become even clearer, with the Tories a moderate national populist party.

This of course has not happened. The political and media class refused to accept the new alignment and the promises of the 2019 manifesto were simply ignored, while Starmer abandoned the popular parts of Corbyn’s agenda (the Left economics) as well as the unpopular part (the radical anti-Western foreign policy). Hence the deep disillusionment of many voters.

In the case of the Conservative Party, media figures, politicians, and donors all refused to follow up the logic of the 2019 election, seeing it as a one-off produced by Brexit rather than as a realignment.

This took two forms. Some rejected the nationalism and cultural conservatism while continuing to promote a kind of technocratic liberalism in economics. Others accepted the nationalism, but rejected the idea of things like levelling up and immigration controls in favour of reinvigorated free-market radicalism.

This combination, personified by Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, alienated two thirds of the voting coalition of 2019 and left them with a Thatcherite rump. Refusing to accept the inevitable loss of one third of the 2019 electoral coalition while looking to expand the opposite third has meant they have lost both.

That, plus exhaustion after fourteen years in office and refusing to accept or even address the accelerating breakdown and general uselessness of most of the British state, means that they are doomed.

On July 5 there will be many people arguing that normal service has been resumed after the episode of populist chaos caused by David Cameron’s decision to have a Brexit referendum. This will be a huge and (for those making it) disastrous misjudgment.

The 1906 election may offer a foretaste of what is to come. The enormous Liberal majority turned out to be the last great stand of the old Gladstonian liberalism. They won a landslide mainly because the Tories (Unionists) were utterly split over Tariff Reform and deeply unpopular after a long period in office.

Only four years later, in 1910, they lost their majority to a resurgent and now united Conservative Party (the Tariff Reformers having triumphed in the meantime), and became dependent on the Irish Parliamentary Party. Something similar will happen in the next Parliament.

Keir Starmer will almost certainly get a landslide majority but he will find, as the Liberals did after 1906, that his support is wide but shallow and driven more by disgust with the Tories than any real commitment. The concerns over issues such as immigration, national sovereignty in a world of globalised rules, and the various imbalances in the UK economy, which led to the realignment among voters before 2019, will not go away.

Because of that realignment and the refusal of most of our political class to accept it and address it (from either side), there is now a huge hole or gap in British politics. That is for a party that is nationalist and anti-globalist, traditionally patriotic, anti-immigration, culturally traditionalist, and Left-wing on economics.

This is the kind of party that is on the rise all over Europe but here there is no party offering this, apart from the SDP (still a fringe party) and George Galloway’s Workers Party (in his case hampered by the radical anti-Western foreign policy positions).

There is also space for a party offering a plausible version of the opposite position but that space is currently overcrowded.

Currently about 35 per cent of voters are effectively unrepresented. Many of them will abstain on July 4. This situation will not last.

After defeat the Conservative Party will either finally accept the new alignment, become firmly nationalist and move away from free markets, or it will either split or be replaced by a new political force on the populist Right.

This could take time but the politics of the 1980s are now a dead end for the Right in Britain. Meanwhile, a Labour government with a big majority will soon become very unpopular as it disappoints its supporters (inevitable, given the difficulties it will face) and does not address the kinds of issue that drive the new alignment.

Like the Liberals after 1906, they will find themselves under pressure from both sides, from a more coherent nationalist Right on one side and from radicals of various kinds plus more effective and consistent liberals on the other.

The election in July and the Parliament after it are the last stand of the political era created by the combination of Thatcher and Blair. The alternatives will emerge in the next Parliament.