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21 December 2012

Heresy of the week: The survival of the Conservative Party is not guaranteed

Nick Cohen is often wrong, but never boring. For instance, in a piece for the Observer he has a go at the British people for not being angry enough: 

  • "For all the complaints from the powerful about the decline of deference, the most notable feature of the British today is their docility, servility, even. 
  • "You can see it in the revival of the gruesome obsessions of popular monarchism. In 1977, the BBC had to rig the charts to ensure that the Sex Pistol's republican anthem God Save the Queen was not at number one in the week of the Queen's silver jubilee. In 2012, pop stars and ‘alternative’ comedians fell over themselves to pay homage to their sovereign lady on the occasion of her golden jubilee." 

Cohen is confusing the brief eruption of punk culture with the mainstream culture which was every bit as royalist in 1977 as it is now. Nevertheless, in drawing a contrast between the two eras, he is on to something: 

  • "Fear was everywhere during the long crisis of 1973 to 1983. Trade union militancy pushed conservative opinion to the end of its tether. The miners' strike of 1973 to 1974 first brought power cuts and a three-day week and then destroyed the reputation of Edward Heath's Conservative government. Rampant inflation, industrial militancy and a war in Northern Ireland persuaded domestic and international observers that Britain was ungovernable."

Certainly, the establishment of the time appeared to be cracking-up, often in a very personal way: 

  • "Harold Wilson, Heath's Labour successor, descended into paranoid fantasy: ‘I see myself as a big fat spider in the corner of the room,’ he babbled to journalists just after he resigned in 1976… Sir William Armstrong the cabinet secretary went further and had a nervous breakdown in front of his colleagues." 

Arguably, Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement was to restore our national composure – which we have held on to ever since, through thick and thin: 

  • "In 1979, which began with the Winter of Discontent, 29,474,000 working days were lost in industrial disputes. In 2011, when austerity was biting, employers were pushing down wages and the coalition was promising a purge of public sector jobs, strikes wiped out a mere 1,389,700 working days." 

The summer of 2011 was, of course, marred by riots. But these were an exception that proved the rule, so devoid were they of political intent.

Though not calling for trouble on the streets, Cohen is worried that the absence of focused popular anger leaves nothing to restrict the greed and incompetence of today's establishment: 

  • "…managers and owners can reward themselves without restraint and governments can stagger from blunder to blunder without a thought for those who must suffer the consequences."

Except that there’s a little something called democracy.

Instead of getting angry, the ballot box allows ordinary people to get even. In these extraordinary times, we need to get ready for some extraordinary election results. As shown by what happened to Fianna Fáil in Ireland, PASOK in Greece and the Democratic Party of Japan, voters fully understand that they have the power to devastate the political parties that let them down.


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