I do not wish to be accused of optimism, but I simply cannot see how support for the Tories can last.
As I have long expected, a Covid third wave is on its way. Government expectations are that at least 40,000 people might die. The NHS will be under massive threat, again. The pretence that we will get through this with all unlocking released, school reopening being on schedule, no economic disruption, furlough ended, no further support for business, universal credit being cut and government support remaining unshaken seems to be very low. I may be wrong, but when the promise at this moment is that vaccines work, lockdown is almost over and we are headed back to normal it is going to take some considerable gullibility on the part of a very great many people to believe that the reality of this summer will in any way match with the promise. I accept that there are a great many gullible people in the UK, but not enough for government support to remain at anything like its current level.
But let me also be honest that I doubt that this is the only reason that support for this government is falling. I know some Tories are claiming that Amersham and Chesham was lost because of the delay in releasing Covid lockdowns. That, I suspect, is complete nonsense, as well being pretty rude to the electorate, who are a lot more sensible than those making that claim are giving them credit for.
There are, instead, very strong underlying reasons why people are moving against the government. Some relate to its own behaviour. Cronyism, corruption, indifference to the electorate, disdain for parliament, racism, the populist politics of division, lying, contempt for international law, aggression towards the devolved countries of the UK and much more all turn reasonable people off a party pursuing such activities.
Then there are international policy failures. Foreign aid is one. Northern Ireland is very obviously another one. The failure at the G7 and the loss of UK status is a third.
Brexit also hangs heavy. We face labour shortages, food shortages and major border issues. We might have short term inflation, exacerbated by Brexit. There are threats to agriculture which are now very clearly not temporary. How long is it before agriculture turns against the Tories, and with it the rural base that it has long assumed to be its to enjoy? Steel too is at risk. So much for an industrial policy for the red wall. The City already knows its lily is no longer gilded. Tourism, hospitality and the leisure sector are losing faith. The government’s generosity no longer looks that good: the risks of failure are growing by the day.
And then there is Covid. It is so obvious that this wave is the government’s fault due to failures on border control that any vaccine boost will now dissipate, tainted by worry. The only real question people might ask now is ‘what has gone wrong?’ because it so obviously has.
Then there are the economics. People do not want free for all planning laws. Nor do they want Australia trade deals that undermine UK business. And deep down many people know unemployment is going up soon. They also fear inflation because so many people have never really witnessed it. Those talking its prospects up actually fuel that fear. And there is no mechanism to protect people from its impact now: unions have lost their power.
The prospect of austerity, now very obviously on the horizon given Conservative views in debt (however wrong they are), also looks profoundly unattractive. No one has a service they now want to cut when they know health, education, social care, justice, local government and so much else are already cut to the bone. Why choose to make them worse?
And all the time they are presented with the choice that they made in 2019 which now looks so profoundly unappealing because Boris Johnson clearly does not know what he is doing, whilst surrounding himself with charlatans and fools in a cabinet of deeply mediocre ability. Does that really look so wise now?
I would love to say people have also fallen out of love with neoliberalism, but few have a clue as to what that is. Fewer still have any idea what the alternatives might be. No opposition party, excepting the Greens, is good at presenting any real alternative on a great many issues. And I am not optimistic that any are heard.
All people really know is what they do not want. And right now I think that they are beginning to doubt the Tories. That doubt will not be universal. I suspect the so-called red wall will take time to join this trend. And the hard core Tory seats may still vote for whichever electoral donkey the party does put up. But in the UK elections are won and lost at the margins. And for the Tories there would appear right now to be no margin that might be advantageous. Almost every single one seems to have threats implicit in it.
At some point that is going to be noticed, and the support for both Johnson and the Tories will fade. Then there will be hope. But the opposition has to be smart to win. The electorate were in Amersham and Chesham. They created their own progressive alliance. That may be true right across the country.
The Tories have chosen to fight in all fronts at the same time right now. It’s an incredibly dangerous strategy. They are losing as a result. The opposition really does need to step up if it wants to exploit this.
I am under no illusion that any resulting government would deliver all that might I want. But it would not be Tory. And that would be a step in the right direction.