Andrew Rawnsley’s comment in Today’s Observer asks the question “Do the Tories know what they would do with power”. It is a good question, and one that has been worrying me for a year or two.
I am not exactly an old hand at this kind of thing. I only joined the Labour party at the point when comfortable victories were looking like a thing of the past, but my limited experience on the door steps in bye elections ties in closely with Andrew Rawnsley’s observations. “Many of the voters are in an aggressively anti-establishment, anti-political mood, distrusting anything promised to them by anyone.”
At Crewe I talked to many people who were frankly confused about what to do with their vote. They felt angry and wanted to express that, but they had no belief at all that voting for a Conservative candidate would be a positive choice. So everyone who had been longing for a Tory victory came out and voted, and many of the rest closed their curtains and simply refused to engage.
At a local bye-election I saw a more confusing situation. The vote fragmented into a mix of Labour and Tory, with UKIP and the Green Party taking a large chunk of the protest vote and letting the Tory candidate into what would in normal times have been a safe labour seat.
The “I’m against everything vote” is held together by nothing but anger. If the Tories do get in on the back of this kind of feeling then they are probably going to need some sympathy, because there is no possible way to please an electorate of this nature.
It is interesting that Andrew Rawnsley picks up on David Cameron’s dislike of isms, absence of ideology, focus on what works in terms of delivering votes. In a sense this is inevitable. The logic of the problems that we are all facing is to make us re-engage with fairness, and sharing, and working to solutions collectively. Whatever he might believe, and we don’t have any clear ideas on this, David Cameron can hardly adopt this line without alienating large numbers of his core vote. His best bet is to be fuzzy. How else could he hope to appeal to people with diametrically opposing views.
I am old enough to remember taking part in the Poll tax protests in Edinburgh, during the last years of Margaret Thatcher. This came from a ground swell of deep anger, from people who had little and were marginalised, and from public servants who were weary of trying to deliver much needed public services in a time when the budgets were cut to the bone. There was a march which took hours to make it’s way down Princes Street. Thousand’s of people radicalised.
The responses to Andrew Rawnsley’s comment are strong. They indicate that many people see what could be coming and want to fight it. Have enough of us got enough imagination to come together and do the things that need to be done? Or is it going to take a period of Tory Government to give us the will?