What's hugely unpopular among voters, mostly funded by City banks, and hasn't won an election in twenty-one years? It's the Tories of course, and no amount of polishing the proverbial excrement that is the Conservative party will prevent millions of Britons from seeing them that way. After all, 42% of us would never vote for them, compared with 30% for Labour. That's because many voters know these are both class-based parties, and the Tories have always been on the wrong side of the class war.
Concerned at their party's toxic brand, a group of Tory MPs have come together under the banner of 'Renewal', which will be launched in a Manchester pub this week (a city in which the Tories have no councillors, along with Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle), proposing to build a million homes over the next parliament, raise the minimum wage and create a cabinet minister to 'take action for the consumer against rip-off companies'. This move is intended to shift the unelectable Tories out of the heartlands, and win them blue-collar working-class support. This is of course an electoral ploy, and comes with the caveat that the Tories will fundamentally weaken trade union power by allowing members to donate their political levy to the Conservatives. It is a blow of class power against class power, as always striking downwards.
The emergence of this 'Tory Left' has come at a time when the party's Etonian mess of a leadership have been cranking up their despicable plunder of the poor, sick and disabled. Even though workfare has been proved not to work, George Osborne is determined that those unfortunate enough to be unable to find jobs will be forced into work placements and made to labour their days away for their benefits, while Ian Duncan Smith's latest disgusting idea is to make it even harder for the sick and disabled to claim social security. These are the orchestrators of an austerity that Centre for Welfare Reform has shown targets the severely disabled 19 times harder than the rest of us, and prepare the NHS to be sold off to the likes of Care UK, who donated £20,000 to Andrew Lansley, the Tories' privatiser-in-chief.
The Tory attempt at rebranding through 'Renewal' is the latest in a long tradition. As Nye Bevan, founder of our NHS, eloquently puts it in his book In Place of Fear, that property and wealth will always use democracy to keep the poor at bay, while the poor, through trade unions and Labour, fight back. Thus, the Tories must regularly throw scraps of meat from on high in order to hold onto power.
The long retreat of both the Tories and Whig/Liberals from being fundamentally aristocratic parties is marked with tokenistic offerings, such as the minimal extensions of the suffrage in 1832 and 1867, initially opposed by Tories but eventually conceded. The 'radical' Liberal party's social reforms under Henry Campbell-Bannerman between 1905 and 1908 were designed to win over supporters from the growing labour movement. Free school meals, greater access to medical care, unemployment and sickness pay were not adopted out of liberal sentiment, but to take support away from the newly-founded Labour party. Winston Churchill, in the most left-wing Tory election manifesto ever in 1945, was so threatened by the popularity of Attlee's nationalisation programs that he endorsed full-employment, the creation of a national health service and large-scale housebuilding.
The tactic of 'Renewal' is just the same and can thus be read as a political indicator. As the Tories feel they need to adopt more social-democratic and Keynesian policies, we can see the political landscape shifting from Thatcherism and back to the 'Golden Age' of capitalist growth. There needs to be a 'Thatcher of the Left' who can remake the political consensus around socialist ideals. If some Tories feel they can't move further rightwards than mass housebuilding, higher minimum wages and tough corporate regulations, then wouldn't their triumph within conservatism represent a triumph for Labour and social democracy?