It's unacceptable for the party in power to simply give up
Quiet quitting is management-speak for when employees put in as little effort as they can get away with, a trend that has stirred up controversy. After all, why should workers do more than they’re contracted to do — especially when they’re rewarded with as little pay as their bosses can get away with?
But whether or not quiet quitting is a real phenomenon in the general workforce, it perfectly describes the current state of the Conservative Party. This week, the papers have been full of stories about Tory MPs simply giving up. Some of them have announced they’re stepping down; others are admitting (off the record) that the next election is already lost.
Though backbench rebellions — like the one this week on house building targets — are an ongoing threat to the government, a bigger problem is the collapse in morale. As one MP told the i newspaper, “Christmas can’t come soon enough and it can’t last long enough.”
But one wonders if the Conservatives realise what a unique position they’re in. Obviously, this isn’t the first time that a ruling party has approached the end of a long period in power. But there isn’t a single other British government since the war that has found itself facing certain defeat while in possession of a comfortable majority.
The closest parallel is the last years of Gordon Brown. However, in 2010 Labour had a reasonable chance of retaining power. They’d have had to go into coalition with the Lib Dems, but they were only a handful of seats away from keeping the Tories out of Downing Street.
There was little that could have saved John Major in 1997 or Jim Callaghan in 1979, but the governments in those cases had razor-thin majorities — and so couldn’t do much in office anyway. Before that, all the other post-war general elections that resulted in a change of ruling party (i.e. 1951, 1964, 1970 and 1974) were closely contested.
And so the current government really is exceptional — although the Tories seem set to lose the next election, they have the time (two years) and the numbers (a majority of more than 70) to actually do something while they’re still in office. Further, they have a comparatively popular Prime Minister (compared to the party as a whole, that is).
If they’re going to lose anyway, they might as well push through difficult but necessary reforms that will benefit the country in the long-term and, in the meantime, provide Tory MPs with some purpose to their existence.
To take a topical example, if they won’t vote for top-down house building targets then ministers should give them some radical alternatives. For instance, the so-called ‘hope value’ principle that entitles landowners to massive unearned profits when sites are granted planning permission should be abolished. There’s no reason why this can’t be done in the next year or two — and it would transform the politics of development for decades to come. They should also fully implement the brilliant Street Votes proposal, that would allow (and incentivise) neighbours to redevelop poor-quality, low-density housing into the opposite.
Of course, if you want a workforce to show some enthusiasm, management needs to show some ambition. And thus it’s up to Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt to take the initiative. If all they want to do is lead a caretaker government, then they’re quiet quitting too.