The next political earthquake in Britain could destroy the Tories utterly

Make no mistake: British politics is feeling the early tremors of an earthquake – one that could be even more spectacular than the crumbling of the Red Wall. The sentiment underlying it is a mystery. It is not the “ick factor” – the deep-seated disgust that seeped into Westminster discourse in the 2010s. It is not populist “rage” – the rebellious mix of anger and optimism that drove boomer voters to vote for Brexit and crush Corbyn’s Labor. It is the white heat of moral rage: an almost ecclesiastical wrath to mete out justice on a fallen party. Simply put, Tory heartlands have had enough. A complete revolution could be on its way. It could turn politics upside down forever.

It is true that the first rule of British politics is not to pay too much attention to local elections, and the second is never to underestimate the power of voter clientelism. Yet the size and geographical spread of Tory losses in local elections suggest something unprecedented is happening. Labor has taken control of councils in the Tory heartland, from Buckinghampshire to Hampshire. It is not only on course to defeat the Tories in England’s 100 rural constituencies, but is also targeting large parts of the south. There are also problems in Yorkshire. Pollsters whisper that Labor has taken away some of its safest strongholds, such as Skipton and Ripon. It is no longer inconceivable that Rishi Sunak himself could become the first sitting Prime Minister in history to lose his seat in a general election. One projection has him winning a majority in his 146-seat seat of Richmond.

I got my own sense of the ferment that is beginning to grip Tory Britain on a recent trip to Boston, the safe seat of Lincolnshire – the seat with the most Leave voters in the country. A market town where mobility scooter-hawking shops crowd stalls decorated with ‘flowers of hope’, and crowds of Romanians gather outside the beautiful medieval church playing ghetto blasters. The spirit of Boston seemed imbued with an even more potent mixture of resistance and defeat. than I discovered in the Red Wall in 2019. One resident told me: “Boston has been Tory all my life and I’m 75. It’s time to give them a warning.”

The parallels with the lead-up to the collapse of the Red Wall are eerie. Not only is the political landscape marked by the same signs of subsidence and erosion – the ominous ‘canary in the coal mine’ during the elections and local electoral malpractice. It is also being rocked by serious tectonic shifts, from demographic changes to the existential collapse of class tribalism (although this time the latter is not due to deindustrialisation, but rather to an economic slowdown and an exploding welfare bill in an aging society that has left the Tories unable to protect the middle class from tax increases).

Yet the most interesting thing about the impending revolution is the unprecedented anger it is fueling. As Tory England feels loathed and abandoned, much like the Rust Belt in 2019, this is mixed with a sense of deep betrayal never seen before – not even at the Red Wall. Traditional workers’ politics never recovered from the industrial collapse and the death of the unions. In contrast, the Thatcherite religion of self-reliance and low taxes had not yet been completely crushed by historical forces. Now it is, and the sense of betrayal among the Tory base is as coolly clear as it is grandly epic. A view has emerged that the ruling party has not only cataclysmically violated the spirit of conservatism, but that this has inflicted damage on the country on a scale that is truly staggering. It is therefore impossible for millions of Tory faithful to vote for their party with a clear conscience. Many would prefer to be slightly poorer under Labour.

In particular, an unholy trinity of Tory sins is gnawing at traditional voters. Firstly, the party has approved a referendum on Brexit – a project it never believed in and has therefore been dealt with hopelessly. Britain now finds itself in the worst of both worlds, trapped in the EU sphere yet excluded from the decision-making core. Secondly, the colossal Tory gamble that it could get away with historic levels of mass migration has left Britain in a double bind – both unmotivated to upgrade the country’s economy from one that lives on low-skilled, low-paid activities, and ( as a result (the limited GDP generated by such a weak growth model) is unable to afford infrastructure spending to accommodate the wave of migration Third, it betrayed the conservative instincts that favor freedom, personal responsibility and a prudent cost-benefit approach to crises when it enforced draconian lockdowns that devastated the economy and saved as many as 1,700 lives in spring 2020.

I suspect that Tory voters are flocking to reform by the millions in the desolate knowledge that much of this Tory damage is irreversible, and that those who do will suffer the consequences will be their children and grandchildren. After all, the EU has no motivation to respond to British pleas for a renegotiation of the Tories’ flawed Brexit deal. Higher interest rates mean the 15-year borrowing window the Tories had to finance tax cuts and infrastructure investment to pull Britain out of its productivity hole has now closed. The damage of the lockdown will have to be paid for, not only with tax revenues, but tragically, if we look at the school absenteeism figures, young lives wasted. Stagnation has progressed so far, the welfare state so entrenched, that it will be impossible to reduce immigration rates without unleashing untouchable controversy and unbearable pain. And yet the ruling class’s hesitation to follow through will only pave the way for the far right. The Tories then destroyed this country on a scale that is utterly mind-boggling.

Those who believe in the ‘wisdom of the masses’ might also wonder whether the Tory base has developed a powerful intuition that the party will have to be pulverized almost to the point of destruction before it can be transformed into a pro-growth party . compensate all damages. Because if you look at the numbers, that’s exactly right. Even if the Tories suffer a significant defeat and are reduced to, say, 170 seats, the One Nation Tory ‘wets’ will remain the largest faction, largely because David Cameron’s machine was so effective at parachuting liberal, centre-left Tories into safe seats . . Only when the party is reduced to fewer than 100 seats does rough arithmetic suggest that this faction will no longer be dominant.

In 2019, I was one of the few journalists who predicted the fall of the Red Wall. The Tories better hope my instincts are wrong this time. As if I’m right, history may be about to be made, with the Tories finding themselves in as dire a situation as the country itself.

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