By: Ben Thrussell
Last year, when Mr Cameron won his first full majority, albeit of just twelve seats, I was delighted. A Conservative Party member myself, I believed this victory to be the end of conflict within government, and that it would bring greater prosperity to this country faster than the coalition that the majority followed. It seems, though, that I was wrong. The Tory Party has U-turned time and again over policy decisions, torn itself apart over Europe, and now even our leader is under threat from rebels.
There seems to be a disaster-in-waiting for this government. Whether it is over Europe, tax credit cuts, academies or something else, I can only see a catastrophe in the party’s future. The great irony, of course, is that this is the Parliament that every Conservative would have hoped for. An overall majority, slim though it might be, a Labour Party in decline and the country’s economy continuing to grow at a steady rate. This was an opportunity for the party to look like a strong political force, not seen since the early 1990’s. It’s a great shame, therefore, that the party has made a complete pig’s ear of being alone in government so far.
With Jeremy Corbyn as leader, the Conservatives could have played safe. They could have introduced legislation that was not, in any way, controversial, in order to make them look like a strong and stable government. Cameron and Osborne have proceeded to do the exact opposite. Introducing £4.3bn in cuts to tax credits in the summer of 2015 got this Parliament off to the worst start possible, and this proposal was nowhere to be seen in the Autumn Statement in November. It seemed that the Tories had done the sensible thing, until it is considered that it still made the government look shambolic.
By the time the 2016 Budget came along, the Parliament was well under way. The splits caused by tax credit U-turns had largely disappeared, but something even worse was on the horizon: the EU Referendum. This has led to splits in the party not seen since Mr Major signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, meaning that when George Osborne, the Chancellor, delivered his Budget speech in March 2016, there were already heated divisions within the party. These became worse as he told the House of Commons that disability benefits (PIP) would be reduced, causing outrage in the party and causing former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to resign.
What’s horrible to see, from a Tory viewpoint, is that the party seems insistent on ripping itself apart at every opportunity. The Conservatives have usually been elected for a period of stability, such as after the Winter of Discontent in 1978, or after the Financial Crisis in 2008-09. During both Tory governments that followed, there has been an inability to avoid division. Be it over their leader, Europe, or state welfare, the Conservatives seem incapable of agreeing on any decision.
Again, I return to the fact that the Conservatives, knowing Jeremy Corbyn could never really mount a serious threat at a general election, could have played the game safe. They could have been… well, conservative. But then Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne announce plans to force all schools to become academies by the year 2022. Only on Neptune would this have gone done well with teachers unions. But still, the Cabinet insisted that it would make every school a better quality, ensuring better education for all. Since then, they have once again backtracked on the policy. Instead of forcing schools to become academies, the government only want to “recommend” it.
What I don’t understand is why, with such a slim majority, in a party already deeply split over the European Union, would the government actively propose such daft legislation? It’s almost as if they go into each Cabinet meeting having already drunk a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc each before attending. The amount of stupid legislation that has been proposed is mind-boggling: Tax Credit Cuts (although I agree with them in the long term), PIP Cuts (it’s disgraceful to take welfare away from those who need it most: the disabled), academisation (never going to go down well with teachers unions), and more.
The way the government has then retracted these pieces of legislation is also ridiculous. They seem so incompetent every time they have to retract any legislation. It makes them look so unbearably weak. It seems very strange that, underneath one of the most united Downing Streets in UK political history, with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor being very much on the same side, is a party that lies half dead every time a piece of legislation is proposed.
Every government experiences some divisions: Gordon Brown’s defeat over Gurkhas being able to live in the UK, Tony Blair’s huge divisions over the Iraq War, John Major signing the Maastricht Treaty, Mrs Thatcher on Sunday Trading (another divisive issue for the Tories today), James Callaghan’s refusal to allow pay to rise by more than 1%. The list goes on and on.
The Tories today, however, seem even more divided. It is said that over 150 Conservative MP’s are against the government and will vote to leave the EU, and Mr Cameron is in a terrible position. He seems to have lost all authority since announcing he would not run for a third term as PM.
As far as I can see, there is only one outcome possible in 2020. A hung parliament, even at this stage, seems likely. Corbyn’s Labour seem incapable of mounting any serious challenge for government office, but the Conservatives are just as bad. Their slim majority hasn’t helped, but their inexperience of majority government has left the leadership unable to manage it.
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