Leading Article: Blood-letting in the Tory party

Related Topics
CIVIL war is the most vicious type of conflict, in which opponents lose all mutual respect, perceiving one another as traitors. Past loyalties are obliterated as each side pursues its vendetta with single-minded purpose. Such is the character of the modern Conservative Party, stricken by division. Even as the party trails Labour by 24 points in the opinion polls, its factions are more concerned to engage in mortal combat with each other than to save the Government from the Opposition.

For the war of attrition within the party is not about the issues that disillusion the country: unemployment, recession and economic mismanagement. This is a conflict within an elite. After too many years in power its members have forgotten that electoral defeat is possible. So the left/right split is defined not by erstwhile debate over which policies will rescue the British economy. Rather, the fissure is over Europe, however many other guises it may take on.

Last week Tory skirmishes broke out over a European directive on a maximum working week. A few days before there had been a shift of forces as the Euro- sceptics lost control of the Treasury. This week Baroness Thatcher and Lord Tebbit will begin a fresh bombardment of the Government when the Maastricht legislation goes to the Lords for its second reading. Politicians belonging to the same party will rush into print and rubbish opponents or, more insidiously, will apply the knife in the back by speaking anonymously to lobby correspondents. Next month the battleground may be a different issue, but the factions will be the same, intent on wounding each other.

A mark of the crisis is that events are moving at an accelerating pace. Last month, even after the Newbury by-election disaster, the Prime Minister seemed safe until at least autumn 1994. Now no one can be sure that he will not be challenged this autumn. Instead of uniting behind the Prime Minister, the Conservatives become ever more fragmented. Backbenchers, blooded during the coup that toppled Margaret Thatcher, seem to like that taste of power. Indeed, they belong to a party which seems increasingly to think that it, not the electorate, has the task of picking prime ministers.

The depths of disloyalty to which the Tory factions will sink in this bitter war were once rare. For all the division which long characterised Labour, Messrs Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan never, while prime minister, faced defeat by their own party. These days, pro- Conservative newspapers, which stood behind Lady Thatcher even in her darkest hour, are writing John Major's obituary just a year after his election victory. Even the Prime Minister has begun to look ruthless in the way he sacrificed his Chancellor, Norman Lamont.

How will this civil war end? There are no signs of weariness on either side and blood-letting will not cleanse the party of conflict. The split would probably resurface with either Kenneth Clarke or Douglas Hurd at No 10. Defeat by the electorate, casting the Conservatives into an obscurity where they could sort themselves out, might eventually be the only route to resolution. However, Labour's experience of splintering and years in opposition should be due warning to those prepared to go down that road.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas