May faces revolt as Tory tensions intensify

Heading nowhere: A Dutch cartoon mocking May’s election disaster. © Tom Janssen

How long can Theresa May hang on? As MPs return to debate the Brexit bill, speculation is mounting not just about her future as prime minister but about the entire future of conservatism.

Theresa May faced growing rebellion this weekend amid reports of pro-Remain Tories being threatened by whips not to oppose the Brexit bill.

After she insisted that she wants to lead the party into the next election, angry Conservatives say a leadership challenge is far more likely.

Fraser Nelson wrote in The Spectator that modern conservatism suffers from a lack of belief.

“Tories used to be able to explain that tax cuts bring prosperity”, he writes, “but also — crucially — were able to explain the point of prosperity. It brings a stronger, fairer, more cohesive society.”

Simon Heffer in The Sunday Telegraph suggests emphasising the “link between capitalism and liberty” is the key to winning over younger voters.

Conservatives seem to be losing the argument. A poll (by Lord Ashcroft) says they won only 30% of the vote from 35– to 44-year-olds, while Labour won 50%.

As it becomes harder to buy a house and secure a stable, well-paid job, those voters are looking for something new. As James Forsyth puts it: “You cannot expect people to be capitalists if they have no capital.”

One other problem for conservatives is that presenting the case against socialism has become harder now that a poor, repressive, socialist empire no longer exists in Eastern Europe.

Can conservatism now survive?

What’s right?

Conservatives need to calm down, say some. Their plight is not desperate: they need to stop being seen as cruel, and develop their own positive ideology. There will always be an evenly-matched tension between the conservatives and the reformers of the world.

But Ed West of The Spectator thinks the game is up: left-liberalism is “the high status faith of our times”, like Anglicanism in the 19th century. This zeitgeist, he believes, is strong enough to brush aside any blips. The future belongs to the left.

You Decide

  1. Does the future belong to the left?


  1. Define, as concisely as possible, the word “conservatism”.

Some People Say...

“The facts of life are conservative.”

Margaret Thatcher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
That the right is suffering a crisis of confidence around Western Europe. Conservative voters in the UK are generally old, and there seem to be fewer people making the traditional ideological journey from left to right as they get older.
What do we not know?
Whether the problem for conservatives is terminal, or whether events could shift public opinion their way.

Word Watch

Tax cuts
Labour pledged to significantly increase taxes on the top 5% of earners in order to pay for greater public spending, most notably free university tuition, and to raise the minimum wage to £10 per hour.
Buy a house
According to Ipsos MORI’s election analysis, 55% of homeowners voted Conservative, while 54% of private renters voted Labour.
Eastern Europe
The recent failure of socialism in Eastern Europe may partly explain the comparative success of right-wing political parties there.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.