With its pomposity, upper class affectations, insufferable arrogance of many of its MPs and habit of wistfully evoking a long-dead era of colonial dominance, the Conservative Party can give the illusion of being like a grand and robust old castle.
In reality, it is more like a crumbling relic. A fleeting look from one angle might evoke a sense of solidity but, once you get beyond the odd intact outer wall, you find a derelict pile.
The Conservative Party has won just one election since 1992 — the one in 2015, which was hardly a landslide — the Tories got 36.9% to Labour’s 30.4%. The other times it scraped into or clung onto power was due to deals with the Liberal Democrats and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in 2010 and 2017 respectively.
The Lib Dems’ time in bed with the Tories, from 2010 to 2015, left the former incredibly unappealing to voters. It has only just started recovering from that coupling. While the Tories are the party of Brexit (decades of civil war in the Tory Party led to the Tory-initiated Referendum), it seems highly unlikely that a freshly sanitised Lib Dems will get back in bed with the toxic Tories.
A grubby deal with the DUP enabled the Tories to limp from the car crash of their 2017 snap election — and the loss of their majority — and drag the UK to the dark cliff-edge of a no-deal Brexit. With the Lib Dems on the rise, and most of Parliament opposed to a no-deal Brexit, it seems unlikely that the handful of seats the DUP represents will be enough for the Tories to cling to power after another hung parliament.
As the current arithmetic of the House of Commons means MPs would reject a no-deal Brexit, there has been a lot of talk of Boris Johnson calling another snap election after his coronation. Given the point above about the Lib Dems and the limited value of dodgy deals with the DUP, there has been chatter about a Tory deal with the Brexit Party — which currently has zero parliamentary seats.
There are many problems with that idea, which even Boris Johnson seems to reject — though he is not known for his integrity or reliability. The Brexit Party is essentially UKIP v2, created after Nigel Farage (who has failed repeatedly at becoming an MP) crawled out of the lumbering half-dead body of UKIP, which by then was looking squarely like a toxic far-right creature. Appointing far-right criminal Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) as a child abuse advisor took UKIP to a new low, but the xenophobic culture of the party had been apparent for years.
There are, no doubt, those in the parliamentary Conservative Party and more in the local grassroots who think getting a hard Brexit is the only important thing. And they might be willing to risk the future of the party (and the UK) by getting into bed with the Brexit Party to drive that final crazed push over the cliff. There will be people in the party who believe their movement is so strong that it would bounce back from lunging to the hard right to get a hard Brexit. However, these people do NOT represent the population, which has shifted towards Remain.
Those who think the Tory Party is so resilient that it will bounce back from dragging the UK to a no-deal Brexit are living in Cloud-cuckoo-land. The party has long been facing a demographic timebomb, as it is a fairly peculiar young person who becomes a Tory. A recent report commissioned by the party revealed that young people being better educated than previously is obliterating the already scant young Tory vote.
Previously, the party might have comforted itself with the assumption that people often become more right-wing as they get older. Reasons for becoming more right-wing as one ages (for those who do) could include: wanting to keep wealth they have amassed, growing intolerance of difference (thus a fear of immigration and liberal values), and the onset of neurological changes, leading to attitudinal shifts.
However, those things cannot be relied on by the Tory Party. People need access to wealth to be in a position to want to hoard it, younger people are used to multiculturalism and sexual freedom, and, with many more people receiving higher education, cognitive decline could well be reduced. The notion that liberal and left-leaning young people will suddenly metamorphosise into Ann Widdecombe or Nigel Farage when they hit 50 seems ludicrous. Widdecombe and Farage are, mercifully, extremely aberrant people for the eras they came from, let alone the 21st Century.
The Tory Party is facing a big decision, therefore. If it goes for a hard Brexit (especially via any future deal with the Brexit Party) it will lose any chance of getting more than a smattering of young voters on their side, both now and for decades to come. It should be noted that a good number of people of all ages already despise the Tories, and causing another avoidable recession via Brexit, after a decade of austerity, will only add to that.
If, however, it recognises that a hard Brexit is unquestionably dangerous to the UK and will harm the lives of people across all generations, and it decides to take us back from the cliff-edge, then it will be called a traitor by the far-right and the hard-right Brexit Party. But it would be wise to reflect on the fact that these people do not and will never make up a majority in the UK and, due to reasons outlined above, that angry minority should wither over time, albeit noisily.
If the direction of the Tory Party hurts the population, then the population will punish it. If it upsets people on the extreme of politics by not dragging the UK over a cliff, then it could at least get some clemency for the harm it has already done. It might take some time to recover and we might get a few Brexit Party MPs, but that is preferable to aping unelected fringe figures and jeopardising the United Kingdom’s future.