When it comes to comebacks, the Tories know a thing or two. Resulting in the first Conservative majority for nearly 20 years, the 8th of May 2015 may go down as one of the greatest Conservative comebacks in recent history. It was at the very least — according to the man himself David Cameron — the “sweetest” win of all.
“Now I’m not an old man but I remember casting a vote in ’87 and that was a great victory,” Cameron said following the election results. “I remember working just as you’ve been working in ’92 and that was an amazing victory. I remember 2010 achieving that dream of getting Labour out and the Tories back in and that was amazing. But I think this is the sweetest victory of all.”
Sweet it may have been (though that depends on who you’re talking to); shocking it certainly was. No one could have predicted the outcome. We’d been told (multiple times) that there would be no clear winner; we’d been told that another coalition was “definitely” on the cards. The only question was, who would it be? Conservative and UKIP? Labour and SNP? Tory and Labour? The only thing we thought we knew was that a hung parliament was a dead cert. Except, of course, that it wasn’t.
So how did this shock comeback happen? And what will it mean for Britain?
Many voters were so sure there would be a coalition government that party manifestos were taken with a very large pinch of salt. Policies were regarded as options, not actually plausible outcomes, and it’s not hard to see how this affected the way people voted.
“I wouldn’t call myself a Tory but I did vote Conservative,” says Anna, who was just as shocked with the Tory majority as anyone else. “I didn’t agree with all their policies, particularly the more ‘far right’ ones. I don’t think we should leave the European Union, for example. But I didn’t have enough faith in any of the other parties and just assumed that the more radical Tory policies would be vetoed by either the Lib Dems or Labour. I was convinced there would be a coalition with either party. So, I’m not happy, to be honest.”
A Sweet — and Surprising — Victory
Anna is not alone. The vocal opposition to the new all-Conservative cabinet has been hard to miss, not least at the anti-austerity protests where ‘anti-austerity’ took on a new meaning: ‘anti-Tory’. The vitriol was everywhere: #ToryScum was trending on Twitter and daubed on war memorials, celebrities were marching furiously in protest, and there was even a new
micro-state established, the Tory-free haven of the People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove.
Yet, like it or not, the Conservative manifesto is now the future of Britain. Nick Clegg was famously the “anchor” holding back Cameron from passing specific policies but, unshackled from his Lib Dem chains, Cameron is now free to push through a radical Tory agenda. The Conservative comeback could potentially mean we are heading for the most right-wing Britain since the days of Thatcher. So what else can we expect from this extraordinary Tory comeback?
While scrapping the Human Rights Act was one of Cameron’s most contentious plans, it was in harmony with the Conservative party’s central policies: standing up to Europe and renegotiating Britain’s deal with the EU. Scrapping the act would eliminate the authority of the European Convention in the UK and allow Britain to take control over its own human rights regulations.
Despite Cameron’s plans to replace the act with a British Bill of Rights within his first 100 days of office, strong resistance from within his own party meant that the Prime Minister has already been forced to do a U-turn on the matter. Many within the Tory party strongly believe that removing the HRA would have an abusive effect on British society and set a precarious precedent for the rest of the world.
This quick turnaround on scrapping the act is another factor that is being partly put down to the unforeseen Conservative victory; many have suggested that Cameron, fully expecting another coalition government, was preparing to trade away some of his policies. Yet, while the quick relinquishment of the Human Rights Act has been shelved, Cameron’s plans to drop it haven’t been abandoned entirely; the government will begin a “consultation period” — essentially a review — which is planned for September.
Will the Human Rights Act really be scrapped?
The Conservative election manifesto also laid out the Tory plans to re-legalise fox hunting. Under a bold heading stating ‘We will support countryside pursuits,’ the manifesto spells out the party’s plans to repeal the ban on hunting with dogs, which has been in place since 2004.
Will Cameron repeal the fox hunting ban?
“We will protect hunting, shooting and fishing, for all the benefits to individuals, the environment and the rural economy that they bring,” the manifesto asserts. “A Conservative government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act with a free vote, with a government bill in government time.”
David Cameron, himself a former member of Oxfordshire’s Heythrop Hunt, has been outspoken in his backing of fox hunting. This March he wrote in Countryside Alliance: “There is definitely a rural way of life which a born and bred Londoner might struggle to understand. I have always been a strong supporter of country sports. It is my firm belief that people should have the freedom to hunt, so I share the frustration that many people feel about the Hunting Act and the way it was brought in by the last government.”
With an overwhelming majority of the British population against fox hunting, insisting on another vote seems as though it’s veering dangerously close to an own goal for Cameron, and at the very least it gives some weighty ammunition to his opponents:
“David Cameron’s plans to bring back fox hunting show how out of touch he is with people’s everyday lives,” said Maria Eagle, Labour’s shadow environment secretary. “The Tories should get over their narrow obsession with fox hunting and accept that the ban is widely supported. David Cameron should be focusing on the real issues facing rural communities like rising utility bills, low pay and disappearing bus services.”
Conversely, there are some who think Cameron was never that serious about repealing the ban and that it was simply another policy he was planning to barter away among the imagined coalition. To be fair to the Prime Minister, this would have been a sensible move on his part; the election results were such a shock that not even Cameron had been seriously hoping for a majority. Having some policies on his manifesto that he would have been happy to shelve would have been a shrewd move.
Which of the Conservative party’s manifestos are actually pushed through remains to be seen, but with such a slim majority and the added inside threat of Tory rebels, the next five years certainly looks set to be a bumpy ride.