The British Conservative Party was defeated in the elections.
“Are you quite well?”, you may ask.
Quite well. The Conservatives will wind up with 307 seats, easily the largest party but well short of a majority. But they should have achieved a thumping majority against an utterly discredited Labour Government. Twelve months ago, all the polls indicated that they would achieve such a result.
Perhaps David Cameron will negotiate his way into Downing Street with some sort of mushy deal with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. But this would only serve to underline the absence of a real victory, a real mandate. It would be a recipe for weak government in the face of inevitable fiscal collapse. It would be a victory of sorts for David Cameron but not for the Conservative Party.
While failure to achieve office would be fatal to Cameron’s leadership, for the Conservative Party, taking office as a weak minority administration would destroy the brand. As Mervyn King, Bank of England Governor, was reported as saying, the spending cuts and tax rises after the election must be so severe that the party which implemented such policies would be out of power for a generation. It might be added that any party that could not take decisive action would be even more discredited, if that were possible.
The only road to real victory in the long run is for the Conservative Party to proclaim non-negotiable policy positions that would ensure that it does not take office. Simply put, conservatives must overturn their leaders’ greed for office. The best outcome would be for a rainbow coalition of assorted leftists to take power. As the fiscal and financial collapse cannot be avoided it could result in a Conservative Party, minus David Cameron and fellow “wets”, being placed in the position to pick up the pieces and start Britain on the long road to economic recovery.
In any case, the historical record is not kind to political parties that are in office at the beginning of a financial crisis. Let us take some examples.
In 1929, having comfortably won the 1928 election, the Bruce-Page conservative coalition Government in Australia was forced to an early election after Billy Hughes and a few followers split from the Government over a labour regulation issue. Stanley Bruce, the Prime Minister, lost his seat, and the Australian Labor Party under James Scullin, won a big majority. This proved fortuitous to the conservatives as just two years later, after the economic crisis had hit Australia, Labor suffered a massive defeat helped by the splits and defections generated by this crisis, and was out of power for the next 10 years.
In the United States, Herbert Hoover was comfortably elected to the White House in 1928, and the Republicans retained majorities in both houses. In 1932, however, Hoover was crushingly defeated, and the Republicans were decimated. So discredited was the Republican brand that for several years the only serious challenge to Roosevelt came from the populist radical Share the Wealth Movement led by Huey Long.
In Britain, Labour came to office with the support of the Liberal Party in 1929. In 1931, Ramsay MacDonald and a number of followers defected from the Labour Party to form a National Government with the Conservatives. Having fortuitously lost the 1929 election, the Conservatives, under Stanley Baldwin, effectively controlled the new Government. The 1931 election returned what was substantially a Conservative Government to power with a huge majority. The Labour Party, now led by George Lansbury, was reduced to a rump and the once great Liberal Party was reduced to a tiny handful of members.
Has David Cameron the wisdom to take heed of the historical record? More likely this empty suit will bend all to stitch up a deal with Nick Clegg. The result will not be pretty.