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General Election Week 5 – Why are the Tories losing so badly?

As the saying goes, ‘success has many fathers but failure is an orphan’. And so it is that those desperately wanting to look clever and say ‘I told you so’ are all now pretending they predicted such a humungous loss for the Tories. Of course, no one actually predicted the scale of what looks like the historic rout about to be visited upon the Tories. But why are the Tories, a party which won a landslide just five short years ago, doing so badly? It’s a question which has many quick superficial answers, but in reality, deeper analysis comes up with rather more fundamental reasons.


Self inflicted damage


The most obvious immediate cause is the cataclysmically badly run election campaign. From the timing, which just seems inept and completely allowed Farage into the race (in Oct/Nov he would have already been in the US getting his big payday at the Presidential election), to the farcical launch where Sunak was half drowned whilst the New Labour anthem ‘things can only get better’ boomed out of some speakers, to the D-day moment of madness which angered the Tories’ key target voters, right up to the dull as ditch water manifesto flop that had nothing exciting, no juicy tax cuts, in it at all. Now we have ‘election date betting gate’, not very snappy but impactful nonetheless. These are all self-inflicted damage. Normally in elections ‘stuff’ is done to you; in this one the Tories have done the ‘stuff’ to themselves! So far, so bad. A perfect short term crisis. No campaign could have won this election for the Tories, but a few points can make the difference between a narrow defeat and a catastrophe – and it’s over those few points that campaigns are waged.


And there was of course the backdrop of some awful but specifically Tory factors in the years leading up to this election. The crazy Brexit period and hapless May government when literally no one was in charge of the country for days at a time. The unrelenting months of Boris/party-gate which just incensed so many voters who had endured much hardship and heartbreak during the Covid lockdowns. The endless failure to tackle the exponential rise in immigration (both legal and illegal). And then of course the tax rises to pay for the Tory’s largesse during the furlough/lockdown period. All these were medium term sins which have vested deeply in voters’ memories.


“Events dear boy events”


In that famous Harold MacMillan response when asked why governments lose elections, we see an eternal truth. Imagine if all the above hadn’t happened, would the Tories be losing badly anyway? Here’s the case for that argument:


Natural electoral cycle – It is a matter of record that in most western democracies, a political party usually only gets two shots at the title. Your first term is all about ‘change’; your second all about ‘delivery’. And then you lose, because everything that’s gone wrong over that 10 year period is hung heavily around your neck. But occasionally, usually more by accident than design, you get a third term – thank you Mr Corbyn. But the rule is that at the next election, your loss is even worse and normally very bad indeed. Because by then, 15 years of problems around your neck finally drown you. And that is the underlying main issue for the Tories.


Radicalised electorate – But there is another new strategic phenomenon which is exacerbating the Tories’ situation. We the voters have, election by election, retreated from the previously established tribal voting pattern over the last 30+ years or more. The floating vote and the impact of tactical voting has grown and its impact is more pronounced. And when confronted by the aftermath of a trio of painful events – Brexit, Covid and the Ukraine war/cost of living rise – we voters have started to more wildly swing from one extreme to the next; a landslide for Boris in one cycle followed by another landslide for Starmer in the next one.


Post Covid voter payback – And, last but not least, we have the punishment beating that voters have been dishing out to every government that was in power during Covid and thus locked us all up. From New Zealand to Germany, from Argentina to probably quite soon France, if you locked up your voters during Covid, then we voters punish you ‘big time’ at the next election. Our reckoning has taken a longer time to come just because of way our elections cycle has worked.


So maybe the self-inflicted beating the Tory party seems to have visited upon itself is merely the painful icing on the cake. Most likely a big loss was baked in already.

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