Leading Article: Blood-letting in the Tory party

Share
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

Supply Teachers Required

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of Pay, Excellent CPD : Randstad Educati...

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Upper KS2 Primary Teacher in Bradford

£21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Upper KS2 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: It’s been lonely in bed without my sleep soulmate

Rebecca Armstrong
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv  

Why do we stand by and watch Putin?

Ian Birrell
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor