Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

The Tories could be heading for extinction

Defeat is certain, a total wipe-out possible – and don’t underestimate the role of Brexit in this meltdown

Rishi Sunak is presiding over a Tory Party that has descended into an abyss of its own making. Photo: Justin Tallis/WPA Pool/Getty

When Labour is triumphant in Aldershot, and the Liberal Democrats take control of Tunbridge Wells, it is fair to say that the game is up for the Conservative Party.

The inherently unstable coalition of Tory pensioners and former Labour Leave supporters, cobbled together under Boris Johnson in 2019, has collapsed. The overwhelming message from the local elections is that voters do not want the Conservatives in power a moment longer. Whether it be as councillor, police and crime commissioner or mayor, the majority of voters favoured anyone but a Tory.

Ben Houchen did confound the norm, holding on to the mayoralty in Teesside, but even Rishi Sunak could not extract much comfort from that single exception. The Tories are toast, and their determination to push ahead with Brexit – and make it an even more disastrous move than it might have been – is a major contributor to that fate.

The failure to deliver a successful Brexit, the mirage to which some still cling, has cost the party the support of committed Leave voters. Meanwhile, the move further and further right, with harsh policies on immigration and welfare and the truly nasty rhetoric of Suella Braverman and her cronies, has alienated any one-nation Conservative.

In the past, the party has been able to survive because of a belief in swathes of the electorate that, however distasteful it might seem, the Conservative Party was at least competent to run the country.

That idea has now been totally eradicated. Long before the local elections, opinion polls were consistently showing that voters believed Labour would make a better job of running things than the incumbents. 

Not that it has been easy to keep track of who those incumbents have been. The last eight years have brought eight home secretaries, seven foreign secretaries and seven chancellors. In that period, there have been five different prime ministers and they include the extraordinarily unrepentant Liz Truss. She was only in office for 44 days, but she will merit special mention in the story of the party’s downfall.

Conservative incompetence played its part in these election results, too. Sadiq Khan is not the most popular mayor. His commitment to the Ulez scheme has driven many drivers, particularly from the outer London boroughs, to distraction. Nevertheless, he was re-elected with an 11-point lead over the Conservative, Susan Hall.

It is likely that one contributor to his success was the Conservatives’ botched attempt to rig the voting system by moving away from a form of proportional representation to first-past-the-post.

In the 2021 election, the first-round ballot saw Khan’s Conservative opponent, Shaun Bailey, get much closer than Hall, just 4.7 points behind. That gap might have been wiped out by Ulez under the old system but the change, imposed by the government under the Electoral Reform Act 2022, almost certainly contributed to Khan winning his third term.

The government now seems incapable of getting anything right, whether it is its anti-net zero policies, now being challenged in the courts, or its moves to “stop the boats” with a deportation strategy that has so far seen just one volunteer being paid £3,000 to board a scheduled flight to Rwanda.

The incompetence is coupled with a perception that the Conservatives are out of touch with the real world. Up and down the country, people are preoccupied with the problems of the NHS, the failings of the transport system, crumbling schools and the sheer hard grind of trying to survive the cost of living crisis. 

It does not help that, while most in the UK have seen their living standards falling year by year, the prime minister is a multi-millionaire with a billionaire wife and a luxury escape home awaiting him in California.

With a membership now literally decimated from where it stood in the 1980s, it is a party of the small, and shrinking, minority. Reform stood in only a few seats, but succeeded in taking votes from the Conservatives as well as a much smaller number from Labour. 

In some parts of the country, where feelings are strongly against Israel’s actions in Gaza, voters protested by voting for George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain and other independents.

These election results are nothing short of disastrous for the Tories and it is impossible to see how they will not be replicated at the general election. Whether Sunak chooses to prolong the country’s agony by delaying the vote as long as possible, or whether he is persuaded to head to the polls this summer, the outcome will be defeat. The question then left is whether defeat also means effective extinction.

The Tories have failed in so many ways, but perhaps the most egregious is in the failure to offer hope to a country that is bathed in depression. 

The last great hope the Tories peddled was that Brexit would make everything better; it would make Britain great again. Tories trying to win votes in last Thursday’s poll tried to avoid any mention of the EU. 

Unfortunately, silence does not change the facts: the party’s defeat owes much to the unravelling of the Brexit con.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

See inside the The Tories in ruins edition

Rishi Sunak is safe until the general election, but the local election results were catastrophic for his party. Photo: Omar Marques/Getty

Keep calamity and carry on

Rishi Sunak looks safe despite new humiliation.. but only because his rivals want him to own a general election defeat

The European flag seen through a rainy windscreen. One of the European project’s greatest successes has been keeping the peace. Photo: Valentina Petrova/AFP/Getty

The imperfect dream

Europe Day is here again – and despite the EU’s problems, it is well worth celebrating