One of the nice things about politics and personalities is that you can like and respect an individual and yet totally disagree with what he or she says. For example I like and respect Tony Benn, but I think it is fair to say that I am a bit more right-wing than he is. One thing he said in the early 1980s which I disagree with (and which the facts bore out against him) was that, if only Labour was more left wing, so that they could counter the Conservatives monetaristic threat, then Labour's electoral salvation would be in sight!
But political events can sometimes repeat themselves and yesterday one saw it in two newspaper colums. One in The Times, the other in The Independent.
In The Times, William Rees-Mogg argued that last weeks by-election results were satisfactory for the Conservatives. He then stated that:
"The results of by-elections are usually very different from those of subsequent general elections.
Nevertheless, one can use the Rallings and Thrasher guide to calculate the results of a theoretical general election in which the swing of votes matched the by-elections. On that hypothesis, the Conservatives would be the largest party, with 281 seats, Labour would hold 243 seats and the Lib Dems would have 93. From the Conservative point of view that would not be a bad result, but for Labour it would be a disaster. "
Being a Conservative, Rees-Mogg ignores one or two home truths. First of all, the Conservatives by-election results between 1989 and 1992 were abismal and the result for the Tories in Richmond in 1989 was nothing to crow about when one considers what the result would have been if the Owenite SDP and the Liberal Democrats weren't split from each other and at loggerheads! (Plus the Tories 79-97 period of power never won a by-election as far into power as Labour have now been in)
Secondly it would take a pretty large swing for the Lib Dems to gain thirty extra seats. There is no evidence of that swing happening as dissatisfaction with Labour is not as bad as it was for the Tories between 1992 and 1997, the last time they gained a substantial amount of seats.
Moving on to The Independent, Bruce Anderson mentions the similar fantasies the Conservative Party has over power:
"It has never been easy to lead the Tories in opposition. Tories regard themselves as the national party: the rightful British National Party. Modern Toryism combines the two great British political traditions. On the one hand, there is a belief in authority and a reverence for our glorious past: on the other, individual freedom and economic dynamism. If those are not potent ideas, why does Gordon Brown pretend to believe in them?
As the true national party, the Tory Party also regards itself as the natural party of government. Tories do not believe that any other party should be entrusted with the national interest. They could also argue that every non-Tory government after Palmerston ended in failure. Tories know they will lose an election from time to time. But defeat should be a brief respite for fresh thinking, not a 40-year schlep around the Sinai Desert. One Parliament should be enough to reinvigorate the party and persuade the country to return to its true allegiance.
Given all that, it is never easy to lead a Tory opposition. The troops are likely to blame any delay in returning to power on incompetent map-reading by the leadership. After 10 years, and during a distinct shortage of manna, nerves are strained and tempers frayed."
The admission of Conservative Party arrogance from a Conservative.
If one compares Labour in 1989 to the Conservatives today, one notes that Labour had already grounded most of their hard left into the ground, gone through some important policy changes, enjoyed better Opinion Polls, were starting to take seats from Tory no-go areas, and had only gone through three leaders. Yes there was the 1992 election, but that was the Conservatives put on Parole. By contrast, the Tories are three years or so behind, have just discussed ideas, have not dealt publicly and firmly with their problem-members (which is what they need to do if they want to win back public support), and have a no of grassroots who seem unsure of moving to the centre ground. The space that any aspiring Party for government needs to occupy. If anything thats because Labour have occupied that ground for a long time and the Tories were firmly to the right in the 1980s, thus making the centre ground an easy target for Labour. If the Conservatives hope to win, they need to totally radicalise their grassroots and not sit and wait for any possible bad things to happen. But that will put them in immense difficulty, because to succeed they need to go into a vacumn in the centre ground and that's pretty much occupied at present!