The Future of the Conservative Party 

As the Conservatives limp towards a crushing defeat on 4 July, there is much discussion about where the party will turn next. Whilst publicly insisting that they only focused on the election, senior MPs are already jostling for position behind the scenes, preparing to stake their claims to be Rishi Sunak’s successor. However, those with leadership aspirations have very opposing plans for the ideological direction of the party.                                                

This is a symptom of the party’s wider identity crisis since the Labour Party reclaimed the centre ground in 2020. In-fighting between the moderates and right-wingers has seen the party see-saw between liberal conservatism and right-wing populism throughout the 2019 Parliament. Whilst Sunak has settled on a more right-leaning stance in recent months, it is likely too late to make a lasting impact at the polls. Years of indecision and stagnation have taken their toll. 

The Tories are being subjected to a political ‘pincer movement’, seeping votes to Labour and the Liberal Democrats on the centre, whilst also losing a similar amount of support to Nigel Farage’s rejuvenated Reform UK on the right. The severity of the situation was perhaps best highlighted in last week’s Times/YouGov poll, which shockingly placed Nigel Farage’s Reform UK ahead of the Conservatives in the national polls for the first time. 

All data suggests that the walls are closing in from all sides on Sunak, as the Tory campaign fails to kick into gear. This has drawn fears from some quarters of a 1993 Canadian-style Conservative wipeout, that would see the final obliteration and humiliation of the Party and its splintering into factionalism. Some party insiders fear the prospect of a hard right takeover by those sympathetic to Farage in the fallout that would follow. However, there is hope for the moderates yet. The Times reported this week that, if current polls hold, it is likely that the vast majority of Conservative MPs elected in July will be members of the One Nation caucus of centrist candidates.  


Polling update - 15th June

In truth, we will be none the wiser as to what the Conservative Party will look like in a year’s time until the election has unfolded. Was the defeat as bad as expected? Was it Reform UK or the Liberal Democrats that truly cost the Tories? The answers to these questions will matter and likely shape where the party goes next. A super-landslide Tory defeat in which Reform wins multiple seats and around a fifth of the vote as some polls predict, is likely to increase the chances that the right of the party will prevail under the leadership of a Braverman or Badenoch, perhaps even in cahoots with Farage.  

Yet, it is important to remember that Britain is not alone with this conservative dilemma. June’s European elections saw hard right parties in France, Germany and Italy do very well, whilst centrist, governing parties stumbled. Meanwhile, in the United States, Donald Trump is currently the frontrunner to take back the White House this November, despite his legal tribulations. The Conservative party’s potential collapse towards the right reflects a general weakening of the centre ground across western democracies. The Tory predicament is the rule rather than the exception.  In this context, 2024 becomes a very important year, with major elections still to take place in: France, Austria, and the United States. The outcome of these will do much to shape the future of right leaning politics in the western world.  

For now, we can only theorise what the next move of Britain’s most famous successful political party will be. Yet, what is certain, is that the aftermath of the imminent end of 14 years in Government will be messy and likely involve a civil war for the future of the party. Whichever side emerges from this victorious will set the tone of Tory policy for years to come and begin the long rebuilding process. 

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