THE BLOG

The Tories Are Paying the Price of Hubris

21/03/2016 12:10 GMT | Updated 22/03/2017 09:12 GMT

It began with the election result. Mirthful Tories were delighted with their newfound muscularity, divorced from the Liberal Democrats and dominant over Labour. Manifesto policies deliberately included as fripperies to trade away in negotiations on a new coalition could be implemented without another party's ideological contamination. The Conservatives could hardly believe their luck.

Then Labour chose Jeremy Corbyn in September and things got even better for them. The traditional role of the Opposition - to keep the government in check - was hardly likely to be effectively fulfilled while the party swung wildly to the left and the Blairites began to come under fire from their own side. To this day, Labour continues to be wrapped up in a self-indulgent internal row about what kind of party it is supposed to be rather than actively opposing the government.

But since September, the Tories have begun to make mistakes. Jeremy Hunt continues to contribute to his party's rapidly retoxifying reputation with his needless and senseless battle with junior doctors. And whilst enemy fire and unfriendly headlines are temporarily trained elsewhere, he cannot sit easily. Further strikes are on the horizon, NHS performance is stuttering and if he carries out his threat to implement the doctors' contract in August he will face an escalation which will act as a rallying point for the left.

Elsewhere, the Lords have recently intervened to stop David Cameron's plans to cut off significant funding to the Labour party via the disputed Trade Union Bill. The legislation, which the peers amended in a cross-party committee, would have reduced Labour's funding by up to £8m a year, damaging their ability to fulfil their constitutionally vital role to oppose the work of the government.

And now, the threads of George Osborne's budget have swiftly unwoven over disability benefits. Centrist Tories were worried about the resurrection of the party's traditional heartless efficiency; compassionate conservatism is currently missing, presumed dead. The outcry provoked by cuts to disability benefits in the budget allowed senior Tories to become distracted from the other one boiling over at the centre of government, between the Chancellor and the Work and Pensions Secretary.

On paper, the Tories should be doing much better than this. They are, after all, not even a year into their first term as a majority government. They are experienced, canny political operators with a largely supplicant press. Why is it happening? Quite simply, because they have forgotten that hubris always leads to error, sooner or later.

The case of Osborne and the budget is most surprising. This week saw none of the Macavity-esque political calculation we've come to expect. In fact, the opposite is true - the Chancellor is beginning to stumble into the political traps he set for the Labour party over taxes and spending. His fiscal charter may indeed be the document that thwarts his leadership ambitions. And he is displaying a political tin ear for how far his cuts can go before serious rebellion takes place.

Without even trying, the winner in all this may be the Labour party. The Tories will continue to be distracted over the NHS and Europe and other political banana skins may not be far away. There are more than four long years until the next general election, in which time Labour may manage to settle on more sensible policy ideas and successfully communicate them to the electorate. In writing them off so early, the Tories have betrayed a hubristic political weakness which may damage them more than they think in 2020.