OPINION - The reason the Tories keep winning elections

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

The thing you have to understand about British politics is that the Conservative Party is rather good at it. In the last 100 years, the Tories have been in government in one way or another (majority, minority, coalition, national) for roughly two-thirds of the period.

Such was its dominance of the 20th century that when he stood down in 2001, William Hague became the first Conservative leader not to become Prime Minister since Austen Chamberlain in the 1920s. Labour, on the other hand, has produced two election winners since 1964.

In many ways, the birth of the Labour Party was the best thing that ever happened to the Conservatives. Sure, Labour was more left-wing than the Liberal Party, but the latter was a far more electorally successful endeavour, dominating much of the second half of the 19th century.

Of course, a large part of the Tories’ success isn’t only Labour incompetence, but their own ruthlessness. The Conservatives know when and how to get rid of unpopular leaders. It is this characteristic, in addition to a reputation, deserved or otherwise, for competent economic stewardship, that has allowed them to remain in power for so long.

And for this reason, it is hard to imagine the Tories permitting their version of Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn to lead them into a general election. Why lose, when you can simply change leader?

That Labour generally doesn’t can be attributed both to temperament and the party rule book. Labour MPs seem to want to allow their leaders a ‘go’ at an election, as if they are children participating in government camp. Meanwhile, its rule book makes it harder to change leaders mid-term.

Of course, the eagle-eyed among you will note that Boris Johnson is still Prime Minister, having won yesterday’s vote by the pretty underwhelming margin of 211-148. So, does that suggest the Tories’ have lost their ruthless reputation? Well, not yet.

The key stumbling block is not, Culture Secretary aside, slavish devotion to the leader. Rather, it is the absence of a credible alternative and the mistaken belief that she or he who wields the knife never wears the crown.

Crucially, the next general election remains at least a couple of years away, no matter the nonsensical threats from the Government Whips Office. Johnson still has to negotiate what are expected to be bad defeats in two by-elections on June 23 and the Privileges Committee investigation into whether he misled Parliament over Partygate. Oh, and there is the small matter of a potential recession alongside falling living standards. In other words, there is plenty of time for the Tories to revert to type.

In the comment pages, Anna van Praagh says welcome to Gatwick Airport, the 10th circle of hell. Her piece includes the immortal line, “customer service doesn’t exist anymore, airlines these days are just a website and some planes.” Meanwhile, Phoebe Luckhurst writes there is no horror like the relentless barking of a cavapoo in the night.

And finally, there’s yet more competition for your attention. Londoner’s Diary reports that former Number 10 Press Secretary, Allegra Stratton, is joining Bloomberg News as UK contributing editor, where she’ll be writing an afternoon newsletter called Readout.

I’m intensely relaxed about it all, and trust my loyal readers won’t be tempted to go elsewhere. And frankly, you should be reading Paul Waugh anyway.

This article appears in our newsletter, West End Final – delivered 4pm daily – bringing you the very best of the paper, from culture and comment to features and sport. Sign up here.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting