Douglas Murray Douglas Murray

The right must unite

Photo-illustration: Lukas Degutis (Getty)

I mentioned here recently that to my mind Boris Johnson bears a fairish similarity to Dr Faustus, as Christopher Marlowe portrayed him: selling his soul only to then waste his time in futile and silly gestures.

The Conservative party is one of the only political parties whose leader seems to rather dislike its own voters

Perhaps I can now add Rishi Sunak as another possible stand-in for that role. As Sunak announced a general election in the drenching rain last week, I was forced to ask again: ‘What was the point of all this? What was the point of rising up the ladder, of knifing his predecessor, of working, campaigning and scheming, only to leave in such a manner? Why seek the highest political office only to have no idea what to do with it once there?’

It isn’t uncommon for conservatives to make the following observation but I will make it nonetheless. The Conservative party always lets you down. I loathed the Cameron–Clegg years, loathed the post-Brexit mess, loathed the infighting, but always thought: ‘Well, maybe they’ll pull something out of the hat.’ But no. As the Tories slide out of office once more, they have done almost everything they could to disappoint anyone inclined to vote for them. There are people alive today who have lived their whole lives under Conservative party rule. And though you can claim that the country would have been in a worse state if Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband had spent the past decade or more in office, it is regrettable that that is the only argument for the Conservatives.

To take just one issue, they leave office with immigration – both legal and illegal – at historic highs. Those of us who love this country find it hard to work out why even the politicians who claim also to love it seem to be intent on leaving such a mess for their successors.

For the past few years I have heard Conservatives admit that perhaps their party needs some time on the opposition benches to get its act together. This is based on the presumption – fallacious, so far as I can see – that on the opposition benches this mess of a party will magically unite and become a loyal, hard-working and principled fighting force. Personally I raise an eyebrow at that.

So what should be done?

One thing above all: the British right must unite. By that I do not mean of course that all of us who are critics of the Conservative party should throw aside our criticisms and muck in. I mean that there must be a concerted effort to widen the home team.

The Reform party seems unlikely to make any serious electoral breakthrough in July but I would expect it to damage the Conservative party and deprive it of a considerable number of seats by splitting the vote. Nigel Farage, among others, seems to be positively looking forward to finally smashing the Tory party that has done so much to displease him since Maastricht. Plenty of Conservative voters I know are saying with some sadness that they will probably vote Reform. It’s either that or staying at home. But the fact that a party like Reform – with almost no household names on its list – could be so close to the Conservative party in the polls is itself a sign.

If you add together the Reform and Conservative parties’ share of the vote you have a force that would at least have a chance of power. But the Conservative party never seems to want those people; indeed it is one of the only political parties I know whose leader seems to rather dislike its own voters.

For years I have seen a version of this play out personally. In the days when Question Time and similar programmes were watchable, I used to appear. As well as having the opportunity to spend an evening with a Liberal Democrat, a Labour MP and a bitter comedian, these programmes always had one thing in common. The Labour MP would ride shotgun with the comedian (who was of course always either left-wing or very left-wing), the Liberal Democrat would sit in the middle hoping to take advantage of any situation – and the job of the Conservative MP was to distance him or herself from the conservative person on the panel. When I was on, that person was me. If it was Rod Liddle or Melanie Phillips or anyone else, the Conservative MP would reliably turn on them at some point and scold them.

If the subject of the environment came up, the Conservative MP would stress how incredibly left-wing they were about climate change, not like this ghastly global warming ‘denier’ or similar. If the subject of immigration, Islamism or anything similar came up, I (or the other poor chump) would say what we thought (which polls show a majority of the public think too) only to be upbraided not just by all the leftists but by the Conservative MP as well.

‘You don’t often see one of those in Scotland.’

I remember Jeremy Hunt pulling that trick on me once. Jeremy Corbyn was with us and so when the subject of Islamic State came up I could have done with a little bit of blue help. But no – Jeremy Hunt’s main aim was to show that he didn’t agree with the lunatic (me) who thought that Islamic State’s name was in any way suggestive. No: the messenger from the right must always be tackled by the Conservative, just to show how lovely the Conservatives are. How well that worked.

That is just one person’s experience, and it happens to be my own. Yet I know that millions of voters have views that I have – and that Rod and many other perfectly reputable people have – and the Conservative party has spent 14 years blowing its nose in their general direction.

After the catastrophe I suggest a rethink. The Conservative party always says it is a broad church but it isn’t. For a generation it has been a broad church only in the way the Church of England is a church of the broad left. Perhaps after the election, when we become the only country in the world to vote in a left-wing government, the Conservatives might wonder whether they shouldn’t have made more friends on their own side. The left does – which is just one reason why it is going to win.