The Daily Telegraph, November 17, Robert Tombs
Is the Conservative Party on its deathbed, lingering on until electoral demise? This prospect is no longer unthinkable. Political parties do disappear or dwindle into irrelevance. In France and Italy the once mighty Socialists, Communists, Gaullists and Christian Democrats have faded away.
Established parties are declining in Germany. Rebellious movements are rising in Holland and Sweden. Even in the United States, whose parties are comparable in age and history with ours, the system has stalled. The Conservative Party is one of the oldest and most successful political parties in history. But that cannot guarantee survival. There is a global political pandemic from which it is not immune, and indeed its characteristic features make it susceptible.
The disease is a general disillusionment with conventional politics caused by transferring power from accountable governments to a multitude of quangos, international organisations, law courts and central banks. We have seen this dramatically in the past week. Whatever one thinks of the Rwanda plan, it is not in the gift of the elected government. For years throughout the democratic world, fewer people have been joining political parties and fewer have bothered voting. Mainstream political parties once had a strong identity, drawing on mass membership and on civil society organisations such as churches and trade unions.
Now who and what they represent is unclear to themselves and everyone else. They lack intellectual and moral self-confidence. Lobby groups and activists have taken their place, along with dissident movements of Left and Right. Yet the Conservative Party had, and to some extent still has, advantages. Since the 1840s when it was created, it can claim to be what Benjamin Disraeli called “the national party, the truly democratic party of England”. It has long represented the smaller towns, the counties, the stable and contented bedrock of middle England. It crosses social classes and regional boundaries more than its rivals.
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