Just two weeks after Chesham and Amersham, the Tories have once again lost a by-election they were expected to win. Why so? Well, it is clear arrogance and complacency were undoubtably key, if not the key, factors. Time and time again this behaviour keeps being repeated.
We saw it with the failure to sack Health Secretary Matt Hancock following his blatant breaching of his own Covid rules – rules which have literally banned physical intimacy amongst single people since March last year. We saw it with the failure to bother putting up a decent, gregarious local candidate, with the Tory candidate in Batley an invisible party apparatchik from Leeds.
And before people had even voted, we saw it with Boris Johnson’s effective victory lap to the constituency on Wednesday, based on the assumption that merely talking about delivering levelling up, rather than actually delivering it, would be sufficient to deprive Labour of one of its northern fiefdoms.
Unfortunately, this arrogance has been endemic ever since the party’s victory in 2019. Having delivered Brexit and the vaccine rollout relatively successfully, the sense coming from the party seems to be that the British people should be incredibly grateful, despite the fact that upholding democracy and protecting the populace’s public health are really just minimum state functions, which people should have the right to expect from any government. In truth, other than coining the slogan ‘levelling up’, on the main plank of this Government’s agenda there has been very little progress or effort to show.
With the largest governing majority since 2005, and the first meaningful Tory one since 1987, one would have thought the Tories would have been champing at the bit to take advantage, particularly on how to reform tax, regulation and public services to help these local economies grow and prosper.
Yet instead there is no vision, no sense of political economy. Just money splashed out left, right and centre on whatever is the pet project of the day. Whether one likes Thatcher or Blair or not (the next most recent Prime Ministers to have had a proper majority), at least they had a well-developed and implementable view on what they wanted to do with power.
Make these points to the Government and undoubtably they would protest that everything would be different if it had not been for the pandemic. Yet as we are moving out, things seem to be getting worse not better – with the agenda of the Queen’s Speech of 2021, which mainly only seemed to consist of innocuous animal welfare measures, such as banning primates as pets, even less ambitious than the one of 2019. Typically, planning reform, one of the few meaningful reforms pledged by the Government in that speech, now too looks like being shelved. Brexit aside and the policy agenda really would be totally bare.
Ultimately, hubris never wins the day. Voters always find their politicians out, as these results are starting to show. Before the window of opportunity has gone, if this Government wants to be genuinely transformational, it is long past time for them to stop the bragging and shagging, start thinking and get to work.