If there is one message to take home from the Conservative Party Conference, it is that the real Tories are back, and they have no intention of forming any compromise fuelled coalitions. Conference season has been in full flow in the last two weeks, and as we approach the next election, the political agendas of the mainstream parties are now firmly established.
The Conservatives face a far more potent electoral risk from Nigel Farage’s UKIP, than from anything the Milquetoast Ed Miliband’s Labour can throw at them. UKIP pose the very real threat of bisecting the Tory vote, and quite possibly causing a schism in the party between moderates and Eurosceptics. The Conservative leadership has calculatedly decided to put their full efforts into choking the life out of any potential revolt.
Their first tactic is a war of words against UKIP. Farage’s party has decided to spear any defectors that dare to break party ranks as traitors, and has wheeled out the Saturday night TV gold of Boris Johnson to brand them as “kippers”. All this anti-UKIP talk would be rather more believable if it was followed by a modicum of walk, but if anything Conservative policy is chasing after Nigel Farage’s party rather than attempting to distance itself from it.
To be clear, Osborne’s budget proposal represents the death of compassionate conservatism. Cameron has succeeded in promoting the Tories as the party that will make hard economic decisions for the greater good. Unemployment is falling, and GDP is on its way up. There was a clear opportunity to reach out to those poor suffering in the current crisis, yet the Conservatives have made a very clear choice to instead shake hands with rich pensioners. In terms of stabilising their core vote, this is a sensible move, which aims to assuage those voters, who may be defecting to UKIP, and who the Tories have failed to soften by years in bed with the Lib Dems. The common criticism levelled at the main three Westminster parties – that they are all gradually coalescing into one homogeneous entity – may be coming to an end. The Conservative proposals put forward on English votes for English laws, changes to the higher rates of income tax that will benefit the rich, and the deeply worryingly idea of abandoning EU human rights laws, putting Britain in a club with Belarus, are all going to widen the divide between Labour and Conservative.
Will it work? It still remains to be seen. After five years of unpopular, Tory-led austerity it is still hard to believe that Labour will not win this election. There are some notable uncertainties about the foundations propping up Labour bastions such as Glasgow, and other previous strongholds across the UK. Peter Kellner, YouGov President, has suggested they could lose a huge proportion of previously loyal Scottish voters to the SNP at this election. The Conservatives have sensibly decided to try and win back some of the vote the may lose to UKIP. Whether or not Labour can, as Johann Lamont has said, “get into the communities” that voted ‘Yes’ in direct defiance of Labour loyalty, remains to be seen.
Should Labour not be the pillar of the very communities it has found itself ostracised from? The Conservatives have delivered some very direct statements of intent at this conference, and anyone thinking this will be a cakewalk for Labour might have to think again.