Pro-Conservatism – or Anti-Incumbency?

Robert Tyler questions whether the apparent conservative electoral resurgence is a positive choice, or an expression of anti-incumbency.

Last week was viewed as a victory for conservatism. Two conservative governments elected, in two different countries, in three days. Not to mention the CSU being returned with a majority in the Bayern Landtag elections in Germany. However, should we truly be celebrating?

Since January, we have seen an Italian election result in no overall majority, thanks to the rise of a new party. In Iceland, we have seen the incumbent government replaced with a centre-right government: and the same story being repeated in Australia, Norway and Pakistan.

However, before we start cheering the fact that the Right Wing is ahead and that Socialism is crumbling all over the world, and that, therefore, the Conservatives in the UK will have an easy ride, we must first take note of one thing: and that is that, in almost all of the cases this year of Right Wing parties coming into government, it’s the incumbents which have lost. Which makes one wonder whether the wind of change isn’t so much ideological, as a practical way of removing governments that the public see to be the causes of their woes.

If the latter is the case, then the Conservatives in the UK are going to have to do a lot more than just pray that Miliband screws up and Labour falls flat on its face.  In fact, even blaming the Coalition for their woes may not cut it.

As a party, they’re going to have to do two things if they’re to pull ahead and prove that the incumbents can survive. The first is to re-convince the grassroots that they still hold conservative values and that they are the party that can deliver those principles. Which will be a tough job. Anyone familiar with the Conservative Renewal conference, or with think tanks such as the Bow Group or Conservative Way Forward, will clearly be able to see that there is a lot of resentment towards Cameron and Co.

The second is to actually get the grassroots out campaigning. And I don’t mean just door-knocking or shoving pieces of paper through the letter box, but also actively encouraging people to sign up to the Party itself. It’s also clear that campaigning before an election isn’t enough. If UKIP has proved anything, it’s that relentless and consistent campaigning yields observable results. And if we learnt anything from George Galloway’s 2012 by-election victory, it’s that social media campaigns matter as well.

I also have one final bit of advice for the Conservatives, and that’s to try and attract more of the Libertarians. It was a shame at the last party conference where Theresa May said “We are the Conservative Party, not the Libertarian Party”. It’s lines like that that lose elections: Just ask the GOP in the 2012 US election and their name-calling of the Ron Paul fans.

However, my concern of incumbents losing may be unfounded: there is one last litmus test coming this weekend. If Frau Merkel manages to hold on to power in Germany, then there may yet be hope for Camoron… I mean Cameron and Co. And if the AfD (Alternativ Für Deutschland) do well and somehow end up in the Bundestag, then I guess there is always hope for UKIP here as well. But that’s an issue for another time.

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