by Peter Franklin
Friday, 25
November 2022
Debate
07:00

The Tories must stop ‘quiet quitting’

It's unacceptable for the party in power to simply give up
by Peter Franklin

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.

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Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
8 days ago

I think the next general election is entirely winnable for the Tory Party. The polls look bad, but the electorate is far less tribal these days and the polls swing wildly depending on the latest events.
The reason the Tories will lose is because they can’t bring themselves to be conservatives. The transformation David Cameron began, of essentialy turning the Tory Party into a Lib Dem/New Labour, is almost complete.
People constanly puzzle :”why don’t the Tories do anything with their large majority?” The obvious answer is that the bulk of Tory MPs are now social democrats, and that even if it had a leader who was a determined social and economic conservative, they would have to fight their own MPs to get and policy passed.
With the Tory Party having abandoned the Right and British politics having coalesced around a rigid monoculture of woke social democracy that is patenty failing economically and socially, the country has rapidly descended towards being a failed state. If it were a local authority, it would be put in to special measures.
British politics needs the constant battle between Left and Right. Traditionally, when the Left has gone too far with economic minmanagement and bad social policy, the Right steps in to repair the damage and pull things back to the centre. The abandonment of the Right by the Tory Party has created a dangerous inbalance in British politics. Without countervailing forces, we have drifted ever further left.
Like many I have concluded that the Tory Party is irredeemable. It no longer represents the Right in any meaningful way and is functionally without purpose. The only way out of the consensus of decline is to destroy the Tory Party and see it replaced by a new de facto party of the Right. To that end, if there is a Reform candidate in my traditionally Tory area, they will get my vote. If n,t I will vote Labour in the hopes that it will do something to bring about the extinction of the Tory Party.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
8 days ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

even if it had a leader who was a determined social and economic conservative, they would have to fight their own MPs to get and policy passed.

Too true – the last leader only lasted a couple of weeks before she was ousted by her own MPs

David Simpson
David Simpson
9 days ago

My comment on another piece today applies: If only the current PM had the courage and honesty to lay all this out before his MPs, his party and the country. He has a 2 year window in which to win the argument and reset the national agenda. It could be done (although arguably the biggest block to real change are his own MPs and the House of Commons as a whole). If he proposed a radical programme – planning reform and house building, fair allocation of resources between young and old, wealth, property and land taxes vs simple income tax, a serious attempt to make us self sufficient in energy and food (not the lunacy of Net Zero) – and spoke over the heads of his MPs and party members, to the country as a whole, I think he might be heard. Whether the parliamentary opposition would listen and offer support is an open question. But the country might, despite the huge trust deficit politicians as a class have built up over the last 25 years.

Last edited 9 days ago by David Simpson
Carol Forshaw
Carol Forshaw
9 days ago
Reply to  David Simpson

I agree with you but you have left out the issue of immigration. People are furious about what they see as the generous treatment of illegal immigrants when we have British citizens living on the streets. Why are foreign students allowed to bring their families? The total this year may be high for exceptional reasons (Ukraine, Hong Kong) but people can see the pressures on all our public services which can only worsen if this continues. But there seems to be no real interest in stemming the numbers. The Tories will lose the election if they continue as they are and deserve to.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 days ago
Reply to  Carol Forshaw

Unfortunately, when it comes to open borders, the parties are indistinguishable. It’s now the centrepiece of establishment ideology.

Matt M
Matt M
8 days ago
Reply to  Carol Forshaw

This is the ONLY issue Carol.
Politicians and journalists treat immigration as just another issue like housing, crime, health, the economy and the rest. But it is not. The number and type of people in a nation is the fundamental basis of everything else. You can’t have affordable housing if you have 500k new people every year. The NHS is overwhelmed by them, the roads are jammed, there are not enough school places, the list goes on.
As you say, if the Conservatives want to win the next (or any future) election, they need to make this the focus of the next two years. They need to leave the ECHR and any other international treaties that constrain parliament. Then they need to make it clear that illegal immigrants will only ever be arrested, detained and deported. Then they need to commit to a plan to bring the total number of immigrants a year to under 100k and support businesses in this transition.
People said Rishi Sunak was smart. If he is, he will get on with this. If he isn’t he will be out on his ear within a few months.

R Wright
R Wright
9 days ago

The Tories have become so intellectualy bankrupt and inward looking that the idea of reforms or even just poisoning the well for Labour’s arrival are now far beyond them. They deserve to be obliterated as a party and institution and all of their spineless parliamentarians scattered to the winds, powerless for a decade. A new party must replace them, a socially conservative party that doesn’t bow to tired boomer economic orthodoxies.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
8 days ago

Why is everyone banging on about how we need more houses without first dealing with the most pressing issue of how are we going to power them when we’re struggling to power the ones we’ve got!
Energy companies are sitting on bumper profits and the government taking their cut but neither of them are investing in fixing the problem only adding to it!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 days ago

Rishi Sunak, though he’s almost certainly more competent (with hindsight) than Liz Truss, comes across in similar fashion – he’s a manager rather than a leader. Whether he’s got the political drive to acheive anything in the next two years i very much doubt but would like to be proven wrong.

The alternative, of course, is to go down as a somewhat longer footnote in history as the PM who oversaw further decline and wasted opportunity. As per Truss’ reported comment after her Downing St farewell speech, that “at least she’d made it to become PM” for Sunak to have the same mindset would make the next two years unbearable to watch.

For goodness sake Sunak, DO SOMETHING!!

Last edited 8 days ago by Steve Murray
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 days ago

We need to replace the Conservatives with a new party that is constitutionally unable to betray it’s voters.

j watson
j watson
8 days ago

You get the sense the complexities of the modern world are too much for many Tory supporters too and alot of the quiet quitting permeates as they retreat to the Golf club to vent their spleen about who is to blame.
Arguably the story of the last 12 years has been the inherent competing contradictions in right wing thinking bashing into each other whilst failing to find a coherent path forward. To be fair Covid and Ukraine crises would have challenged every Govt but ours has been too hostage to the next populist slogan and failed in basic good government. Immigration policy and its application being an obvious example.

Gordon Hughes
Gordon Hughes
7 days ago

It is dispiriting to see how political journalists build on fashionable nostrums that they know nothing about in detail. If Mr. Franklin had any knowledge he would be aware that the 1960s Labour Government introduced a Development Land Tax with precisely the objective of removing most of what he refers to as “hope value” from the grant of planning permission but which is more usually called “planning gain”. It was an utter failure. All it did was ensure that land suitable for development was taken off the market, thus worsening the whole situation. It was quickly repealed and subsequent governments did not think of repeating the mistake.
If I, as a landowner, refuse to apply for planning permission or object to it if someone else applies, what are you going to do? All of the options come down to compulsory purchase or expropriation. The rules governing compulsory purchase are strict and cumbersome, so that most contemplating it prefer a voluntary agreement, which won’t be possible if there is no gain. Expropriation – well get that through the courts for as long as the UK is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. Even if you could, the press and the public would make mincemeat of any politician that tried this – grabbing my back garden to develop houses or whatever.
Thinktanks and commentators should stop promoting fantasies about how the shortage of land for housing could be arbitrarily resolved. Instead they need to work out ways of getting the consent of both landowners and communities for development. That means (a) paying generous compensation to those whose amenities are affected, and (b) ensuring that infrastructure and public services are expanded before development occurs rather than long after (if ever).
The key point about our democracies is not majority rule but the principle of minority consent. Just imagining a solution to land use problems is completely different from getting the consent of those who are affected. That takes time and, usually, a willingness to spend a lot of money in compensation. This is what serious politics is about, not the indulgence of fantasies.