As the drama of the Eastleigh by-election unfolded, a spectacle of far greater importance has been playing before the eyes of the British public: the unravelling of Cameron's 'reformed' Conservative party and its shunning by the right. Ukip pushed the Conservative party into 3rd place in Eastleigh, a moment which punctuates a narrative that has been playing out in British politics, and was inadvertently presaged, 7 years ago, in Private Eye's satirical caption "World's first face transplant a success" beneath photos of Cameron and Blair side by side. Ever since he was elected head of the Conservative party in 2005, the PM has been busily engaged in a race to win the political centre ground (traditionally occupied by the middle class); a race he simply cannot and will not win. In fact, it is a move that will almost certainly bring about the end of a Conservative-dominated politics in Britain, which saw its birth in Disraeli's 'One-nation conservatism'.
Today's Conservative party bungles and flounders in the centre ground, it bends over backwards to appeal to a largely liberal middle class, and is currently failing spectacularly in the process. Some readers will see the death of the Tories as a joyous moment in British politics, others will not. The fact of the demise of Disraeli's Conservative party should, however, be plain for all to see, whatever their opinion of it.
Traditionally, Conservative victories have come as a result of an effort to appeal to both the working class and upper class, and all those in the middle, with an inclination toward the right. More than ever before, we have a predominantly liberal middle class borne out of a progressively more deeply ingrained liberalism in our cultural zeitgeist. No matter how hard he tries, Cameron cannot emulate Blair's capture of the tentative right in a symmetrical fashion - his predicament is asymmetrical. For in the context of liberal Britain, the tentative right can more readily be swayed by the left, as was demonstrated by Blair's New Labour, but the reverse is not true. The tentative left in the British electorate is naturally more averse to the right, and to big and little 'c' conservatism. In fact, even at the end of the Blair-Brown era, when Labour was at its most unelectable since the late '70s, Cameron's Conservative Lite was still unable to establish a majority.
The only hope for the Conservative party would have been to use the financial crisis to mobilise the working class, and right-leaning voters in the middle class, by appealing to policies that have always been dear to the hearts of the working class; immigration, English nationalism, Europe. The most successful appeal to the working class began in 1867, when Disraeli's program of working-class enfranchisement set the foundations for a century of Conservative dominance in British politics. But, for Cameron, the ship has sailed. He has completely alienated the working class with pasty taxes and NHS reform; he has propagated the disillusionment of much of the right with his pandering to the centre and open advocacy of social liberalism; and the left continues to despise the Conservative party as much as it ever has. Eastleigh is just another nail in a rapidly sealing coffin.