The Ghost of Thatcherism Is Still Haunting Britain’s Tory Party

The Ghost of Thatcherism Is Still Haunting Britain’s Tory Party
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech at the Royal Society, in London, U.K., Oct. 26, 2023 (Press Association photo by Peter Nicholls via AP Images).

When it comes to finding suitably dramatic contests for transformative moments in European politics, few observers would have chosen a mayoral election in Birmingham for the occasion. Yet the stunning electoral defeat last week of the Tory mayor of the West Midlands region to which Birmingham belongs marks the firmest confirmation yet that the ruling Conservative Party is on track to be decimated in U.K. parliamentary elections later this year.

The Tories also lost contests for dozens of local councils, nine out of 10 English regional authorities and a parliamentary by-election in Blackpool South, which they had flipped in the last general election. In the aftermath of that massive victory in 2019, the Conservative Party seemed destined to remain in power for decades. Just five years later, it now looks as if it is spiraling toward political collapse.

The speed and scale of the Tories’ implosion since a wave of scandals forced Boris Johnson to resign as party leader and prime minister in June 2022 has been punctuated by ideological infighting between its rival factions. With Brexit failing to deliver the revolutionary transformation of U.K. society that its supporters had promised, the party has struggled to hold together the electoral coalition it rode to such an impressive parliamentary majority in the 2019 election. Whether it was unfunded tax cuts that brought former Prime Minister Liz Truss’ leadership ambitions to a swift end or current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s promise to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda, attempts by Johnson’s successors to pursue right-wing populist themes have failed to rekindle support among an alienated electorate.

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