Work to do.

AuthorSutcliffe-Braithwaite, Florence

In 1990, the Parliamentary Conservative Party was faced with a country in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, as both inflation and interest rates soared in the wake of the Lawson boom. The prime minister was fatally associated with a policy, the Poll Tax, which was wildly unpopular. By the end of the year, the party had got rid of its leader, despite the fact that she'd led them to three huge general election successes. In early 2022, the Tory government faced a new cost-of-living crisis, and the damaging drip of revelations and accusations of parties in No 10 and racism at the top of the party. In late February, it seems the party may be waiting for the outcome of the May local elections before MPs make up their minds about whether to bring down another election-winning leader.

The left is always commenting on the way the Tories focus on winning at the expense of, say, principle or loyalty or consistency (generally with a more or less explicit sigh about Labour's failure to do the same). But it's worth pausing for a moment to ponder the contradiction being exposed right now at the heart of Conservative (or Johnsonian) strategy: ruthlessly effective in putting together their coalition of big business, suburban home-owners and anti-immigration social conservatives; devastatingly incompetent in delivering on most of the things that matter most to the country - from track and trace and PPE in the pandemic, to making Brexit actually work, to energy bills and support to insulate homes. Aditya Sarkar suggests in this issue that the Conservative Party's relationship to (at least parts of) its traditional business constituency has been destabilised: the party is currently willing both to say 'fuck business' and to actually fuck many actually existing businesses. What explains this? Sarkar suggests that 'currently, the need to ride the tiger of right-wing populism outweighs every other consideration for the ruling party, including the future of British capitalism itself'. This makes the right extremely dangerous, but also unstable: reactive, incoherent, sometimes panicky. Riding a tiger is not easy.

To avoid ending up in a similar sort of position, one lesson for Labour is that we need not just a strategy to get into power, but a strategy made up of three, interconnected parts: to win power, to govern effectively, and to transform British society and political economy in the long run. And this longer term transformation requires the building up...

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