Brexit is the Tories’ golden ticket out of scandal and impotence - Professor Robert Tombs - 29.05.22
In an article for the Telegraph, Robert Tombs, Professor of History at Cambridge University traces the fortunes of the Tory party over the last two hundred years, and draws striking parallels between the party’s past and present fortunes:
“The party’s ascendency is commonly ascribed to ruthless pragmatism, including readiness to jettison failing leaders. But there is more to Toryism than that, and always has been since its 17th-century origins. It may not have an ideology, but it has always had a solid core of traditions, loyalties, sentiments and interests which have been remarkably constant.
Since a recognisable Conservative Party was founded by Sir Robert Peel in the 1830s, its support came from the smaller towns and villages of the most stable parts of the country. Conservative heartlands in the 21st century are remarkably similar to those in the mid-Victorian period. And Tory support always included a substantial slice of the working class in the Midlands and North. The Red Wall is nothing new.
What held this diverse coalition together was identification with the nation and its symbols, above all monarchy and Church. They were also united by shared dislikes, such as of religious dissenters and their modern “woke” heirs, and of militant trade unions – in brief, those who wanted to disrupt the country and the ways of life to which small-c conservatives were attached. This brand of politics never became reactionary or authoritarian, as in several other countries. It accepted and even embraced moderate change.”
Nonetheless, the Tories were out of power for most of the 19th century by an anti-Tory coalition under William Gladstone comprising
“nonconformists, Catholics, the Celtic fringe, intellectuals, free-traders, teetotallers and both industry and the trade unions.”
And here Professor Tombs identifies the possibility of a similar future coalition emerging today:
“If now there really is a mortal danger to conservatism – as opposed to a temporary setback or even a reviving period in opposition – it can only be that the anti-Tory coalition may come together again, in a Lib-Lab-SNP-Remainer alliance of discontents fuelled by a desperation at never being able to win.”
To prevent that happening, the Tories need to rediscover their historic sense of common purpose. Brexit remains the issue which continues to divide both the party and the body politic more widely and unless common cause can be found, the implications could be very serious:
“With or without Johnson, [the Tory Pary] has to find its moorings by reviving its own coalition and pre-empting that of its opponents. Otherwise, we could drift into a political whirlpool that would drag us back towards an ever more dysfunctional EU and facilitate the break-up of the United Kingdom itself.”