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The threat of Conservative extinction isn’t over

The world's oldest party may yet crumble. Credit: Getty

July 10, 2024 - 7:00am

Last week the Conservative Party suffered the worst result in its history. And yet it could have been worse — easily so, in fact. Is 121 seats enough to work with? For a leadership contender seeking to rebuild the party in his or her image it’s almost an ideal number: low enough to shock members into a change of direction, but not so low as to finish the party off entirely.

Optimism may be too strong a word for the Conservative mood, but certain senior MPs are clearly looking forward to the future — specifically one featuring themselves as Leader of the Opposition. Clearly, the likes of Robert Jenrick and Suella Braverman believe that their party has a future worth fighting for. And so they should. But they must also bear in mind that most conservative of truths: things can always get worse.

Consider, for instance, just how marginal most Conservative seats are now. Tom Calver, Data Editor at the Times, has crunched the numbers and found that the great majority of Conservative constituencies are now held on vote shares of between 30 and 40% — and all but five have majorities of less than 10,000. The Tory haul of seats isn’t just very small, but also extremely precarious.

Do those tiny majorities matter if the Tories have gone as low as they can go? After all, the 2024 result was the product of not one, not two, but three leaders who failed to plug the party’s very obvious wounds. Yet we shouldn’t forget that the other parties also have room for improvement. Labour could do better than its underwhelming 33.8% share of the vote, and if the party gets closer to the 40% of the vote won by Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 then that could prove fatal to the Tories in their weakened condition.

Reform UK could also improve by more carefully vetting candidates ahead of 2029. As for the Lib Dems, there’s a chance they have some stars among their 72 MPs. What if they run a serious national campaign next time, instead of Ed Davey’s seaside special?

What should worry the Tories most is the age profile of their remaining supporters. According to Lord Ashcroft’s mega-poll of 16,667 voters, the Conservatives came first among the over-65s last Thursday, but fourth behind Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems among 25-34-year-olds. Among all the younger age groups, the Tories are already relegated to minor party status with Labour as the only major party.

Unless this changes, there will be nothing strange nor unexpected about the death of Tory England: it will be an entirely predictable function of the passage of time. If the next Tory leader doesn’t understand these fundamentals, then he or she has already failed.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
12 days ago

The British people are used to one of these two parties getting on average 15 years of government. They don’t anticipate anything other; it’s the UK’s democratic tradition, like having a hereditary monarch as its powerless head of state. The only innovation this time around was swapping Prime Ministers frequently from the same party and government, so we’ll see if Labour continues with that.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
12 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

I don’t think the past is any guide to the future in this respect. It’s more likely that every government will be ejected in a landslide until the question ‘Westminster or Davos?’ is finally settled.

General Store
General Store
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Only if there is a successful realignment of the Right. And much as I like her, I fear that Badenoch’s personal desire to be leader will get in the way of that

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
12 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Maybe Starmer will do a Blair/Brown-like succession deal with … who? Reeves? Some Corbynista?

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
11 days ago

Hopefully, this October. 🙂

Martin M
Martin M
11 days ago

Are there any Corbynistas left? There is “Red” Ed Miliband, I suppose.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
11 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

“They don’t anticipate anything other [than these two parties getting on average 15 years of government]”

Many do! 🙂

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
12 days ago

Well, a lot of people, Conservatives included, wanted to kick the current government out. That under-34s who can’t really remember any other government want to kick them out too is the least surprising part.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
12 days ago

Our only hope is that they will eventually realise that, in a technocratic dictatorship effectively operated by a global superclass, you can’t really ‘ kick the current government out’, and demand a return to some form of genuine democracy.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

They will realise that but by that time there’ll be another naive generation coming through.

Martin M
Martin M
12 days ago

What if they run a serious national campaign next time, instead of Ed Davey’s seaside special? Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

AC Harper
AC Harper
12 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Not so much a seaside special but Jeux Sans Frontières, for those with long memories. The Lib Dems pining for the EU.

Ash Bishop
Ash Bishop
11 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

It was obvious really in hindsight he’d go for the seaside special vibe, when a man so vehemently believes in womens’ penises in not that much of a surprise when his campaign is largely “Water Sports” based

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
12 days ago

As for Reform, I suspect they’ll remain , as per Farage’s previous MO, a permanent pressure group rather than a contender for government.
Sending relatively unvetted candidates out isn’t that big a deal for a new party though – it’s the best way of getting them some experience and seeing how they perform in the field.

J B
J B
12 days ago

That’s what they said about UKIP and The Brexit Party.
Make no mistake, Reform are a serious contender and are coming after the Uniparty blobists…

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
12 days ago
Reply to  J B

That’s what they said, and they were right.

Martin M
Martin M
11 days ago
Reply to  J B

I don’t recall UKIP and the Brexit Party forming government.

Chris Whybrow
Chris Whybrow
12 days ago

Why don’t they just be honest and name the next one Farage Party No. 4?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
12 days ago
Reply to  Chris Whybrow

The media have done that job for them anyway.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
12 days ago

All Farage has to do is keep on not sounding like a media-trained bot and Reform will only grow in popularity. That and vetting his candidates properly. But like Hitchens I tend to think the era of conservatism is over. There’s just not enough demand for it.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
12 days ago

There’s never been a “demand” for it, more a “polite request”. Perhaps it’s politeness that’s gone out of the (Overton) window.

General Store
General Store
11 days ago

Muslim conquest of the inner cities will bring it back

Adam K
Adam K
12 days ago

It’s a shame that the Tories were not hit even harder. Their Janus-faced approach was a disgrace. They should be investigated by trading standards. There is nothing conservative about them at all. I hope Farage finishes the job next up. Or he may be able to force them into becoming a docile organisation that complies with Reform.
https://theheritagesite.substack.com/

General Store
General Store
12 days ago

What conservatives? It’s like talking about the threat to extinction to the DODO

Stephen Philip
Stephen Philip
11 days ago

“it will be an entirely predictable function of the passage of time”
The most likely outcome going forward is one similar to post 1974 where Labour (as they always do) make a bad situation even worse. People will increasingly see that the whole Starmer project is built on a pack of lies, no matter how hard the BBC tries to persuade them otherwise. Those most likely to switch allegiance will be those with the greatest expectations all of which will be dashed.
Sure many of the youngest cohort will switch to Marxist light alternatives such the Greens and Lib Dems, but some will switch to the right as they did in 1979. If the Tories are able to persuade the electorate (I know it’s a big if) they are returning to true Conservative values as optimised by Thatcher they could increasingly become party of choice for such disaffected voters. Young or old.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
11 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Philip

Politics aside, NET Zero will destroy manufacturing, food production, transportation of food, especially food requiring refrigeration, and make necessities more expensive, Iike heating, and traveling to work. Even refuse collection will have difficulties: a battery powered lorry can get around the daily circuit, collecting the rubbish, but doesn’t have the Energy to regularly compress it’s load. And there’s the likelyhood of it spontaneously bursting into flames, like most EVs.

Yet life is supposed to improve?

Martin M
Martin M
11 days ago

NET Zero isn’t really going to happen. It is an exercise in greenwashing. If anyone claims it has happened, they have fudged the figures.

Martin M
Martin M
11 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Philip

You refer to Thatcher having “true Conservative values”, but plenty of others on this site say Thatcher “wasn’t a real Conservative”. I find it puzzling.

John Riordan
John Riordan
11 days ago

“Unless this changes, there will be nothing strange nor unexpected about the death of Tory England: it will be an entirely predictable function of the passage of time.”

The passage of time is the thing that mints new conservatives at a rate of thousands each day, as previously idealistic voters and taxpayers finally realise that the state is not the answer to the problems they can see around them, it is part of those problems.

william langdale
william langdale
10 days ago

There always has been and always will be a large part of the population that supports the essentials of conservatism,a smaller state.low taxation,personal responsibility,tough on law and order and strong on defense.The problem with this lot is that they (to quote our American friends) “couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo” on any of them but those ideas will have another day.Meantime they should take Clement Attlee’s advice to Harold Laski……… “a period of silence from you would be now be welcome”.