Are the UK Tories playing out the clock?

There is a growing sense that Conservative government knows political problems are looming

Published : 16 Jan 2023 09:06 PM

There is nothing worse than watching a football match that has a lopsided result and you’re waiting for that final whistle to be blown.

Nothing anyone can do on the losing side can change the reality that you’ve been at the wrong end of a shellacking and are down 5-0. And that whistle can’t come soon enough.

Regroup, head back to the training ground for new ideas and new inspiration and come back again next week. That’s the circadian rhythm of sports when you’ve slept-walked to defeat. But that circadian rhythm also, I would suggest, is also what’s at play in Britain right now.

The Conservative government knows the writing is on the wall, is facing a heavy defeat, and it’s time to go away, regroup, look for fresh ideas and inspiration, and try again next time out.

Every opinion poll — and this has been consistent whether Boris Johnson, Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak is leading the party — has pointed over the past 18 months, to a Conservative defeat at the polls at the next general election.

The country is mired in a cost-of-living crisis and economic malaise that means one family in two are having difficulty paying their energy bills — at least the winter has been milder if wetter than anticipated — and making ends meet.

The Tories are in deep trouble — really deep. Consider, 

if you will, that out of every 10 voters who voted for 

Johnson and getting Brexit done back in December

 2019, only four now say they will vote Conservative

Like everywhere else in Europe, inflation and the economic knock-on from the conflict in Ukraine, combined with the huge costs of fighting the pandemic, has hit like a ton of bricks. While all of those factors are at play in the UK too, it is also dealing with the self-imposed body blow of Brexit — and don’t get me started on that unmitigated disaster!

This cost-of-living crisis has triggered wide-scale industrial unrest, where workers in the public sector in particular are striking for wage increases to march inflation that hit 13 per cent in December.

While double-digit pay increases are never going to happen — no government, whether conservative or Labour could ever afford those — the reality is that the strikes are highlighting the extent that public services have been underfunded under more than 12 years of consecutive Tory governments.

Services at breaking point

Simply put, the Conservative ministers who take to the airwaves to condemn the strikes cannot change the political narrative that it is they and their predecessors who brought the services to breaking point. They see it, they know it — and so do voters.

Two years ago, the government urged Britons to stand on their doorsteps each Thursday evening and cheer for the staff of the National Health Service who performed miracles in overcrowded and under-resourced hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, the government is asking us to suspend belief and condemn nurses and ambulance workers who have reached breaking point, are leaving the NHS in droves, or who have to turn to charitable food banks simply to feed their families.

No one but the Conservatives got the NHS to this point, and no one but the Tories are to blame.

Perhaps, if the Sunak government was somehow suddenly able to end the series of strikes, it might regain some of the support that has drained away from the party over the past months.

That slim chance in thought has no chance in reality — Sunak, a former investment banker, seems more intent on balancing the books than on solving real issues that are causing real headship for millions.

If his level of political capital wasn’t low enough, his reputation as being aloof and out-of-touch was fortified with the minor revelation that he himself doesn’t rely on the services of the NHS, and he uses private medical care, bypassing the waiting lists and overcrowded doctor’s surgeries used by the mere millions of Brits.

The poll numbers suggest that the outcome of the next general election, whenever it comes sometime in 2024 if not sooner, will be a whitewash.

Conservatives behind Labour in polls

One leading UK pollster, has the Conservatives a full 30-points behind Labour, with more than half of voters deciding that they will be casting votes for the Sir Keir Starmer-led party come the general election — and one-in-five or so sticking with the party that has been in power since David Cameron — remember him? — took office back in 2010. Other pollsters record similar levels of support.

The Tories are in deep trouble — really deep. Consider, if you will, that out of every 10 voters who voted for Johnson and getting Brexit done back in December 2019, only four now say they will vote Conservative.

Any political analyst or adviser will tell you that owning an issue is key to gaining and keeping power. Right now, poll after poll shows that the Conservatives do not own a single issue. It used to be that when all else was adrift, the Conservatives always were seen to have a handle on the economy and the way the UK’s finances are handled.

Yes, until Liz Truss came along and, within those 44 days — remember them? — shredded that hard-earned Conservative reputation in a blinding and mind-bending blitz of trickle-down free market codswallop.

That’s why this feels like the last, long minutes of a game that most people wish was over, and they’ve headed for the stadium exits to catch an early train home. They just wish the Conservatives would do the same.

Mick O'Reilly is Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. Source: Gulf News