Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Tories: Id v Super-Ego. The Ego needs to master the Id.

While I won't vote for them, I can identify with the Conservative Party this weekend. I'm a bit like they are. My Id is a bit shouty and sweary. It likes the sound of it's own voice and it likes to try the odd outrageous argument. It prefers drinking with other similar Ids. And in my career-concious moments, I'm constantly aware of the verbal side-swipes that I've thrown at the people who could have hired me.

Like me, senior Tories know that they have to keep a lid on the Id. And I don't know how it will affect short-term poll ratings, but this has been something of a watershed weekend for the Tories - in a bad way. Nothing significant has happened on its own, but lots of little chinks in their armour have widened. It's not my job to feel sorry for the Tories when things aren't going the way they want them to, but if I were one of them, I'd be a bit worried at the moment.

In 1994, Tony Blair laid the groundwork that he thought was needed to secure an election victory a few years later. The 'Clause IV moment' was an important one strategically, whatever you think to the outcome as a political manoeuvre. By 1997, I don't think anyone seriously believed that - in voting Labour - they were going to get some Maoist dystopia imposed upon them by the back door.

More to the point, I don't think many people believed that Labour was going to govern even an inch to the left of the position that it fought the campaign on. Two friends of mine wrote what I think was a very under-rated portrait of the opportunity that Labour were passing up to do this.

Few of us had real expectations that Labour would run much further than the key pledge that it made to us as members - that it would deprive the Tories of power (on the 'First, do no harm' way of looking at things, this as an achievement in itself). We may have wished for more, but we'd been read the Riot Act in 1994 and we'd swallowed it.

The Tories have done no such thing. OK, they've raised £72m to fight with this time, but above the line campaigning has never been as unattractive as it is today.

Like New Labour in the 1990s, the Tory Ego knows that it needs to be able to hang on to it's existing voters and appeal to people that are soft supporters. The Tory Id, however, wants to make the minimum number of concessions needed to get into Downing Street, and then it would like to row back on as many of them as possible once it has it's feet under the table.

In 1997, Labour, with it's massive majority, had a coherent Super-Ego in the driving seat. It had all of the power that Machiavelli attributed to people who had proved themselves in recent battle.

With the Tories, the Super-Ego is nowhere near as coherent and it is unlikely to have much of the honeymoon that Blair enjoyed. What is worse (for the Tories), this is all glaringly obvious. In an election, the voters are very likely to tumble this fact. The contrast between Labour's downbeat 1990s left and the rampant Tory blogosphere couldn't be more pronounced.

Like Blair, Cameron has had to fix his backwoodsmen with a steely glare and tell them that they don't get any omelette unless they let him break a few of their eggs. The Tories are already treading on broken shells and they're doubtful that even a thin pancake will be forthcoming. In terms of party unity, this is not a good place to be. The moment the poll-lead dips below the 8% level, the big story will be who gets to inherit the corpse.

Now, it seems that Cameron's whole whiter-than-white card is going to blow up in their faces thanks to Lord Ashcroft's dodgy tax-status. In an election fought against the backdrop of economic mayhem caused by the opaque dealings of billionaires, the Tories will be spending a lot of the campaign defending an opaque billionaire to the voters.

In a remarkable article, soft-Tory Julian Glover seems to be saying to people who are not natural Tory voters that they have a duty to vote Tory to save the party from ..... er... most of the party.

Meanwhile, Cameron has been walking a fairly tight line on issues like climate change. His party are about as rational on this subject as they are on Europe. Cameron, however, knows that the only position to you can credibly take to the voters is the 'Pascals Wager' one that I outlined here recently. For years, the public told pollsters that they wanted hanging brought back. History shows that they weren't prepared to buy the whole hanger package though.

The same is true of climate change. People may be sceptical of a science they don't understand. They may have had distrust pricked by climategate. But they also know that no government could simply pretend to be certain that there is no potential catastrophe in the post because it is certain that the whole concept is a forgery. The Tory Id, however, does believe climate change to be some kind of smart ass budget-maximising conspiracy and this tension won't survive the heat of an election.

The Tory Id is already locked in a growing civil war with the urban metrosexuals that have the potential to reach beyond the older, whiter constituency that voted Tory in 2005. Illustrating all of this, this article (and the comments beneath) about Cameron's Cuties shows what is at stake here.

No-one who reads their newspapers and listens to their backbenchers (never mind their frontbenchers) thinks that they'll not seize the first opportunity to dish the BBC up to it's rivals. In the European Parliament, they're in bed with a shower of nutters, foreshadowing a potential period of government in which they have to kowtow to Unionists, Bloggertarians and Thatcherite fruitcakes to maintain a slender majority if they can win one. Does this ring any bells?

The Tory Id will be exposed over the coming months as an out-of-control force that will elbow a weak leader aside as soon as it gets a toe over the line. This has become apparent the weekend.

I'm not saying that they can't win in May. But it became clear over the last few days that it will be a lot harder than they had hoped.

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