THE BLOG

Why Leicester City and Donald Trump Should Worry the Tories

03/03/2016 11:34 GMT | Updated 03/03/2017 10:12 GMT

I can't imagine Claudio Ranieri, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn have often found themselves grouped together in the same sentence. But the unlikely trio should give the Conservative Party plenty of food for thought.

The surprise success of the Leicester City manager and the Republican maverick shows how foolish is Tory complacency about the next election. It is a complacency already fuelling the way the Tories are behaving to each other over the European debate.

Ranieri, for those who haven't followed football's unlikeliest story, has taken his unfashionable side to the top of the Premier League. His success has shocked pundits and bookmakers alike who had made his team among the favourites for relegation and their manager the likeliest to be sacked.

After his success on Super Tuesday, Trump now seems set to complete what's been dubbed his hostile take-over of the Republican Party. Just like Leicester City, he has defied the pundits who have been predicting that he would have to step aside for an establishment candidate and has benefited hugely from the weakness of his opponents.

Labour's leader is an Arsenal, not a Leicester City, fan. But I suspect he will secretly be relishing the success of the football underdog. And while he has very little in common with the publicity-mad, wealthy Republican front-runner, he will also be looking at what lies behind Trump's success. So should the Tories.

Trump is succeeding because of divisions in American society, a break-down in trust between the electorate and political class and a sense of grievance, often for good reason, felt by a significant part of the public. His support is drawn from those in the middle and working-class who have seen their living standards steadily eroded under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

This same sense of grievance, dislocation and anger is not, of course, restricted to the US. Corbyn's own shock election as Labour leader was driven by those, often young, who have missed out on the fruits of economic growth but are being hit hard by austerity policies. It is also behind the troubles of established parties across Europe and the rise of what up to recently would have been dismissed as fringe groups.

There has not been a time in recent decades where politics in western democracies has been so fractured and unstable and mainstream political parties so weak. In such an atmosphere the appeal of politicians who seem authentic, as Trump is demonstrating, can be powerful.

It is why I have never shared the view that Labour under their new leader are heading for electoral annihilation. By holding the party's traditional vote and adding those on the left who have not recently voted for the party, he can make a strong showing in May's local elections. I suspect the electoral trigger for a coup against his leadership will remain well out of reach.

The counter-argument, of course, is while Labour's national opinion poll rating may remain reasonably strong, it is failing to build appeal beyond its heartlands. This is exactly the same reason given for why Trump can't beat Hillary Clinton to the White House.

But if Trump succeeds in putting together a coalition of traditional Republican supporters with those whose household incomes have been hit, he has a chance of creating an upset. The signs are that his straight-talking appeal, at a time when the economy remains weak and disaffection with the political elite is high, might hit Hillary's support harder than many expect.

Recent events are also helping Mr Corbyn. The UK economy has taken a turn for the worse. The recovery, which the Tories thought would deliver them the next election, has run out of steam. They face the prospect of going to the country after a decade in Downing Street without having improved living standards.

The behaviour of the Tory party in the early days of the EU referendum campaign also shows that whoever wins, the fall-out is going to be nasty. Indeed, it is hard to see the party or indeed the Union surviving in its present form if the Brexit campaign succeeds. But even if the status-quo is preserved, the divisions within the party will be raw, obvious to the electorate and take a long time to heal.

President Trump and Prime Minister Corbyn may still be a long-shot. But the Tories should remember that you could have got 5000-1 odds at the beginning of this season on Leicester City winning the title.