British Tories are addicted to chaos. Can they kick this habit? – POLITICS
LONDON — Westminster has been in turmoil for years. The Conservative Party is largely responsible.
The epidemic of disloyalty and open rebellion that has brought down a succession of Tory prime ministers since 2016 has reached a crescendo this year with the extraordinary dethronement of first Boris Johnson in July and then his successor, Liz Truss, three months later.
Rishi Sunak, who on Tuesday became the UK’s fifth Conservative Prime Minister in just over six years, opened his term with a plea for ‘stability and unity’ in the face of the ‘deep economic challenge’ of the Greater -Brittany.
But the bigger question – as his divided party watches the barrel of electoral obliteration – is whether the Tories can even remember what that means.
« Can we look back to the days before Liz Truss quit and say we were the drug addict who hit rock bottom? » thought, hopefully, a former Conservative minister. « And that’s what allows us to pick up the pieces and get back together? »
Every Conservative strategist knows the party must end the perpetual internal war if it is to have any chance of a recovery in the polls.
But with painful tax and spending decisions looming, a Brexit hangover in Northern Ireland yet to heal and deep divisions over the future of UK immigration policy to contend with, rehabilitation might be easier. to say than to do.
« I do not neglect our ability to shoot ourselves again in the foot, » sighed the former minister.
A former Tory adviser added: « It’s like the Conservative Party has been around a Formula 1 track for six years, and now you’re telling them, ‘If you want to stay in government, you have to stick to do 20 mph or you’re going to be in trouble. I think it’s reasonable to ask if they can do that.
The fear among senior Tories is that some of their colleagues have developed an addiction to the chaos that has consumed the party in recent years.
Former MPs and councilors who operated in the Westminster bubble point to the ‘dopamine hit’ of becoming a minor political celebrity when leading a rebellion.
Social media has allowed MPs to ‘invent a narrative’ about themselves which is validated by the ‘likes’ they receive from their followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, another former government adviser has said . That leaves too many MPs with a « complete inability to compromise, reach and rationalize », they added.
“It’s like a Facebook algorithm, isn’t it? said the former assistant. « The more you hit it, the more it feeds you what is bad for you. »
They pointed to the toe-curling televised statement made by a group of backbench eurosceptics from the European Research Group (ERG) last week, announcing their views on the leadership race.
“Look at the ERG, when they made that statement in the central hall,” said the former adviser. « The pomposity of this one was totally off the scale. »
Others note that some Tory MPs appear to have developed a compulsion to provide lobby reporters with aggressive and crude quotes about their colleagues, further fueling feelings of disloyalty and chaos within the party. Anonymized quotes are now traded in Westminster almost like currency, adding spice to insider articles published by news outlets at all levels (including, of course, POLITICO).
A veteran ex-MP thought there had long been ‘compound a quote’ MPs chiming in on their party hierarchy, but thinks the phenomenon has worsened in recent decades with the advent of social media and text messaging.
« It’s like watching porn, I guess, » the ex-MP said. « People just can’t stop. »
A psychiatrist, interviewed by POLITICO for his professional analysis of the Conservative Party, suggested the growing lack of discipline could be a consequence of having been in power for so long.
« I think people can develop the belief that they have a natural right to government, » said Raj Persaud, consultant psychiatrist and author.
“There was a famous thing called the divine rights of kings to be in power. They may start to believe that no one will ever elect a Labor government because they haven’t elected them for so long,” he said.
Persaud also thinks some of the recent political turmoil could have its roots in the way the Conservative government has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, imposing strict lockdowns on the British population – which he said had been a “trauma for the party at large, acting against all of its instincts.
« I think a lot of people are upset now in the party because they’ve been in power for a long time, and they’re not entirely convinced that the party hasn’t moved away from them, » he said. declared.
But James Weinberg, a lecturer in political behavior at the University of Sheffield, is skeptical because many MPs have really developed a taste for chaos.
It’s « antithetical » to the classic personality of a Tory MP, who research shows tends to be « more concerned with stability », he said.
He sees the rebellions as being driven more by the idea that Tory MPs have « less and less to lose » by speaking out, and by the belief that in extreme political circumstances – such as their plummeting popularity ratings at the sequel to Truss’ catastrophic mini-budget – « the alternative could be worse ».
Events, dear boy
Certainly, many observers believe that the extraordinary context of the past six years should be a mitigating factor when assessing the (bad) behavior of Conservative MPs.
« We left the EU, for better or for worse, and as you came out and sorted it out, you had a global pandemic, » the Tory top adviser quoted above stressed. « It’s no surprise that it’s politically chaotic. »
« People could have handled things better, that’s for sure – but I think people will say it’s obviously a destabilizing time, and so it’s no surprise that it’s reflected in politics, » they said. they added.
Indeed, this is not the first time that the party has gone through a period of division, as former party members point out.
The Conservative Party split in two after former leader Robert Peel repealed protectionist corn laws in the mid-19th century. It was also plagued by division in the early 1900s during the era of the Tariff Reform League, a protectionist lobby group opposed to what it saw as unfair foreign imports. There were other bitter disputes in the 1930s over how to deal with dictators as World War II approached. And in the post-war period, Britain’s relationship with European institutions became a bitter source of resentment in Conservative ranks.
Is it time for a break?
However, every Conservative MP can diagnose the problem. Whether they can swallow the bitter compromises needed to restore unity remains an open question.
The veteran ex-MP quoted above believes a long spell out of power may prove the only solution for his divided party.
« It’s only after being in opposition for a very, very long time that the parties come to their senses, » he said. « It took from 1997 until David Cameron became leader of the Conservatives [in 2005.] And then you had seven or eight years for the Labor Party to go from Jeremy Corbyn to Keir Starmer.
The second conservative adviser accepted. « I think they’ve gone so far down this road as individuals, » they warned, « that they really don’t know how to step back. »