Unless the Right changes course, Britain is dooming itself to permanent Labour rule

Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn
Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn

As the Conservative Party’s poll ratings have fallen, the list of those held responsible has grown.  Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, others. Or, if you prefer, count the tally of reasons: Covid, the Ukraine war and economic shocks, Brexit – or, say some, the junking of conservative principles.

But the blame game is ultimately unproductive.  There are more fundamental forces at work. Let’s have a look at them.

The Conservatives had over a million members in 1990.  That was about one in 40 members of the adult population – a formidable distribution mechanism for conservative ideas. Today, the Party won’t declare its membership figures at all, presumably because it’s ashamed that it has fallen to roughly 150,000. One in 400 people or so isn’t much of a support base.

Over the same period, Tory MPs have been transformed from citizen legislators, who represented the interest of property, to full-time constituency workers, on the model pioneered by the Liberal Democrats. No wonder most top-level barristers, entrepreneurs and financiers have decided that today’s Parliament isn’t for them.

However, the professional classes are boycotting not so much the Commons as the Conservatives. The clergy and teachers went first, at about the same time as academics. For example, the university city of Cambridge was Conservative from 1967 until 1992.  Then came the police.

And lawyers. Tony Blair’s Human Rights Act was less a cause of a leftwards shift in the legal profession than an effect. The flow away from the right has not been consistent. There have been counter-movements: David Cameron was once cheered at a rally by junior doctors. But these haven’t tended to last long: today, a kind of Corbynism is flourishing among them.

In recent years, the campaigning of centre right parties across much of the western world has been emphatically populist. This may be effective at winning elections. But it doesn’t guarantee good government. Future Conservative administrations are unlikely to prosper without the support of professionals.

The Tories remain vibrant in many places. For example, Ben Houchen, Mayor of Tees Valley, may within a few weeks be the most senior elected Conservative in the country – a reminder that the Tory revival may well begin in local government.

Nonetheless, the Conservative Party is gradually hollowing out – together with the infrastructure and institutions that support it. Whatever happens in this general election, it may not exist in a generation. Ministers are currently warning us not to go “back to square one”. But in terms of regrouping and renewal, back to square one is exactly where the Tories, and the right in Britain more broadly, needs to go.

What would revival look like? In the wake of the election, some will ask what the Conservatives should do next. However, the key question may be not so much what they should do as how they should do it – along with the rest of the right in Britain.

This is where Policy Exchange comes in. I’m delighted to be joining Britain’s most prominent think tank in order to lead its project on the future of the Right – not, please note, of the Conservatives only.

One point is inescapable, whatever happens on July 4. The Right needs to rebuild its networks. Some of these will doubtless be conservative, but with a small c rather than a large one. Think of the work that the Free Schools Network did in the late 2010s, leading the way for Michael Gove’s education reforms. Others may be, if not exactly conservative, then certainly un-woke. Consider the alliance of interest, ranging from J.K.Rowling to Kemi Badenoch, that champions women’s rights above Trans self-ID. Elsewhere, the Right needs to start getting Parliament working properly again by raising the quality of candidates and MPs. The current selection procedures of both main parties hark back to the era of pocket boroughs.

Can there be a truly conservative society, in the medium and long term, when so many key professionals are now so hostile to conservatism?  What can be done now to tilt the balance back? Policy Exchange will be utilising its network of professionals to explore these key questions. Above all, the Right must overhaul its structures and rewire its networks if Britain isn’t to move further Left - whichever party holds office.

Paul Goodman is Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange