by UnHerd Staff
Tuesday, 5
October 2021
Video
16:30

Debate: are Conservatives doomed?

Peter Hitchens, Ed West, Miriam Cates and Matthew Goodwin joined UnHerd in Manchester
by UnHerd Staff


Are Conservatives doomed? Following a General Election that resulted in an 80-seat majority for the Conservative Party after 11 years of uninterrupted rule, this might seem like a rather strange question to ask.

But firstly, there may be long term challenges to the Tory coalition. By 2030, typically Left-leaning groups that tend to vote Labour — the young, renters, the childless, and the more urban people are not only growing in numbers but becoming increasingly liberal too.

More importantly, are the Tories even a Conservative party? Even if the British Tories have a talent for remaining in power, where does that leave true Conservatism?

At this week’s Conservative Party conference in Manchester, UnHerd gathered together some of the country’s most optimistic  — and doomerist — conservative voices to get to the bottom of this question.

In the pessimist corner sat writer Ed West who recently published a book ‘Small Men on the Wrong side of History’ and columnist Peter Hitchens, who has been calling for the destruction of the Conservative Party since 2010.

In the more optimistic corner: Miriam Cates, a Conservative who was elected as MP for Penistone and Stockbridge as part of the feted ‘Red Wall’ intake in 2019; and Matthew Goodwin, a contributor at UnHerd and professor of politics at Kent. Watch the full debate above, with some key quotes below:

Most people do tend to start to imitate those who are more high status and then people will start to adopt these positions. That’s happened in every society; the high status people people follow the ideology and follow the religion. People say ‘Twitter isn’t Britain.’ But the nightmare vision for the future is that Twitter will be Britain in  2030, or latest 2040. And that’s going to be a hell of a place to be.
- Ed West
I was elected in 2019 as the first Conservative MP to represent a Sheffield seat in nearly 30 years. You cannot underestimate the significance of that shift. Voting Labour was a generational commitment for generation after generation after generation. And now that commitment has begun to be broken. Perhaps the Brexit party was the kind of gateway drug. But now that commitment has begun to be broken, who knows where it will end? And actually there’s been a social change in how socially acceptable it is to vote Conservative.
- Miriam Cates
We now see a country and a Conservative party in which the heir to Blair is one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. He is the new Blair and his government is a Blairite cabinet. Everything that they do, although many of them are actually too thick and ill-educated to understand what it is that they’re doing. Almost everything is Blairite agenda promoted by Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell, back in 1997.
- Peter Hitchens
What we’ve seen in particular since 2019 is the first serious pushback against a political consensus that has dominated this country since the era of Thatcher. I mean, things morphed and changed in different ways. I think the Conservatives introduced economic liberalism and Blair and New Labour introduced cultural liberalism. But for the first time we have a government that is serious about shifting the dial away from London and the graduate class. 
- Matthew Goodwin

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Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
10 months ago

The problem with the left is that it’s inherently poisonous. It WILL kill itself, but the question is, how many of the rest of us will it take with it?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago

I do wish people would stop using Left and Liberal in the same sentence. The Left is no longer liberal, which is why I have drifted right.

Ian nclfuzzy
Ian nclfuzzy
10 months ago

I guess this debate was a case of “define your terms”.

Can the Tories keep winning elections ? Yes, of course. They are shapeshifting enough and Labour is terrible.

But what does it profiteth a man that he gain the whole world but lose his soul ? And this is where Ed and Peter made a very compelling case against conservatism as opposed to conservatives.

The lack of fight on trans, the lack of focus on repairing families, the silence on education after Gove and Cummings were seen off. All of these things and more are deeply depressing.

Watch this to see absolutely no difference at all between the Tory and Labour MP on women in the workplace (minute 11 in particular was astonishing)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrqT3mqp0zM

Last edited 10 months ago by Ian nclfuzzy
Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
10 months ago

I may be overly cynical, but I have always seen the political parties as serving particular ‘client’ groups. The Labour party of old was always a coalition of organised labour and middle-class liberals who supported (often with condescending pity) the cause of the working classes. Nowadays, the only trade unions with any clout are representing those in the public sector, supporting the views of their middle-class members. Working class people, many holding socially conservative views, have ceased to be a client group of the Labour party, ditched in preference to the alphabet people.  As Matthew Goodwin pointed out, the last election saw huge swathes of former Labour supporters voting Conservative, having been deeply alienated by the direction of the Labour party. Boris has realised that these disaffected former Labour voters with their millions of votes can become a client group of the Conservatives, and he is going for it.
The problem is that in order to accommodate and retain these new socially conservative former Labour voters, there is a need to appear more economically liberal/left. I saw the debate in this light. One the one hand, you had the diehard conservative Peter Hitchens saying to Matthew Goodwin “You lot are far to the left of Maurice Glasman and Paul Embery …  if you called yourselves the Socialist Workers Party, I would have no problems at all”. Matthew Goodwin countered that “Conservatives will have to venture into territory that they would not have considered in the 2000s and 2010s”.  And there you have it – it’s a battle between Conservative fundamentalists and pragmatists.  As Freddie noted during the summing up of the pragmatists case: “and plus, they are winning”.
Full blown battles between fundamentalists and pragmatists are never bloodless – look what has happened to Labour. In my own opinion, I prefer the pragmatists’ case – social conservatism but with a liberal economic policy – even if this does end up with what Peter Hitchens would call a neo-Blairite (or even Marxist Lenninist!) government. The alternative could be a Labour government.

robert stowells
robert stowells
10 months ago

If Blairism is a concept, as the panellists seem to accept it is, that concept is the acceptance by the people of governing politicians lying and misleading the public without shame or censure even to the extent of going to war with other nations on the basis of those lies. That is the overwhelming legacy of Blair and for the panellists on both sides to represent otherwise, as they have, is shameful and the beginning and end of the debate.

Last edited 10 months ago by robert stowells
robert stowells
robert stowells
10 months ago

Matt Goodwin referred to several reasons (pride, migration etc etc) for the UK voting Conservative in 2019 election but for me the overwhelming reason was respect for democracy and the referendum vote of 2016. Even those that voted to stay in the EU should still have voted for Boris Johnson and “getting the Brexit job done” from a point of view of respect and preservation of democracy!

Last edited 10 months ago by robert stowells
Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
10 months ago

The wording used to describe changes is very deceptive.

Economic liberalism was favoured by all Parties in the 19th Century.

And the Human Rights stuff was a consequence of Hitlers behaviour. It was all overdone by Labour under Blair. The Iraq war …

robert stowells
robert stowells
10 months ago

Is this debate all about a futile public catharsis and rehabilitation for Blair????!!!

Last edited 10 months ago by robert stowells