The maths is against us. No Opposition has won a subsequent election while being as far behind the polls at this point as we are, by having the gulf in competence or leadership that we have, or with the obstacle of electoral boundaries that we face -that would require more than an 11 point lead for a majority of 1.
But the Tories are not inevitable.
Where Labour is now is Labour’s fault. Osborne is no immortal. The Tories and this government are not particularly popular. The Tory brand is still toxic across large swathes of the country. They left the entire North East underwater, for Christ’s sake. Osborne was booed in 2012, the height of -nay, the only time I can recall where there was- national happiness. A large amount of people hate the Tories.
But they still prefer a competent lizard to an incompetent lamb.
Labour’s brand is equally toxic. Not for being mean, but for many people not being ‘mean’ enough. ‘Essex man’ thinks we’ll overspend on welfare, most of the South thinks we caused a global crash. So even if the Tories are not popular, even if they are hated, they are still trusted. We are not. Fixing this doesn’t mean being, well, mean, by the way. But it is a fact, it is there. And it’s been a puzzle since the party’s unlikely inception. By Labour’s very nature of being ‘radical’ over conservative, that is, the small-c conservatism that has marked England for a millennia- we have had to prove ourselves time and time again. Now we have to work twice as hard. It is not our brand, it is our managers. Or at least, how we present out managers. And it has been for a very long time now.
But just as we appear locked out of these regions because of our managers, the Tory brand cannot penetrate much outside the South East, South West or North West. They have a ceiling. The Tory ceiling.
Indeed, despite the darkness, I cannot see an emphatic win for the Tories in 2020. I can see a win, no doubt in my mind, but not partying-in-the-streets, 1997 landslide win. More riots circa 2015. Still, a win where it counts. But no, I don’t think that is ever going to be possible for the Tories again, that flag-waving greeting awaiting their guy at Number 10. It is a modern phenomenon that has stuck no matter Cameron’s modernisation. No matter his party’s part-conversion to social liberalism. They have no warm, slightly bumbly figure like John Major on the horizon. They have Etonian lizards. They have George Osborne (though, God help us if Boris gets the gig). And while the ‘Etonian’ part is not something Labour can win an election on by repeating, it is a part of that Tory Ceiling that haunts the modern Conservative Party. The Tory Ceiling owes itself, too, to austerity. It may have won consent for cuts, but pitfalls like the tax credit debacle help not the nasty party image. There’s some obvious open goals (some we’ve missed in this Tolkien-sized reshuffle) where the Tories clearly move away from their supposed centre ground and reveal themselves for the lizards they are. The housing bill right now being one, just as housing creeps up national priorities. It’s there, it keeps rearing its head, and it’s a limitation to any future super-majority.
And, as said, this ceiling is a brand problem. We have a problem with the presentation of our management, sure, but we are our own obstacles to this. The Tories can do very little to wipe away an entrenched brand. Not without a complete change of face; Osborne is not a change of face, he is an entrenchment. And as such they have their heartlands they can’t get out of. Or rather, the backyard extensions. The marginals they win, like those in the South West, where voters voted against Ed Miliband. The problem is, right now, their extended heartlands are bigger than ours.
I said there was a limitation, obstacles, to a Tory super-majority. To breaking that ceiling. But it’s still possible. On this trajectory, even likely. It will not be emphatic. It will not be for this brand of Toryism. It will be against our management of Labourism. A lot of people hate the Tories, but they will grudgingly support them to lock us out as they did Ed. It will not, however, end in a street party. It will end in a, “well, that’s that then.” and people will continue to be begrudging and annoyed, facing soaring train costs, soaring rents, creeping energy bills, a slow NHS. What would a street party be celebrating?
Tories are only as inevitable as we let them be.