The Conservatives' Huge Defeats in Tamworth and Mid Beds Shows Sunak's 'Culture War' Strategy Has Run into the Mud
Rishi Sunak's focus on a series of fringe issues that concern a minority of very online Conservative activists is doomed to failure
You don’t have to be a political soothsayer to see how things are likely to go for Conservative party at the next general election, after their huge double defeats in the Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire by-elections overnight.
The almost 24-point swing to Labour in Tamworth is one of the biggest by-election swings in history, while the result in Mid Beds represents the largest by-election majority overturned by Keir Starmer’s party since 1945.
If Labour were to come anywhere even close to repeating results like this next year, then the Conservatives wouldn’t so much be heading for a landslide defeat at the general election as they would a near total wipeout.
Sunak’s elections guru Isaac Levido is fond of saying that the Government still has a “narrow path” to victory. All the signs from these two results is that this path is now not just narrow, but almost entirely overgrown.
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The results are also further evidence that the Conservative party’s lurch towards a hard-right ‘culture war’ strategy over recent months is exacerbating the scale of their likely defeat.
This strategy, which was deployed at great length during their recent party conference in Manchester, relies on the rather eccentric assumption that voters are somehow likely to be more attracted to a party talking about fringe issues like ‘15 minute cities’, university free speech and gender neutral toilets, than they are a party talking about the big issues of living costs and the NHS that voters actually care about.
On the frontline of this strategy has been the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who devoted her own conference speech to accusing her political opponents of being a remote elite who hold what she described as “luxury beliefs” that are somehow wildly out of touch with the public.
Her speech was enthusiastically received by the formerly-respected academic, turned anti-elite culture warrior Matthew Goodwin, who wrote in the Daily Mail that “luxury beliefs’ was a “compelling phrase – which could determine the result of the next General Election...”
Yet as the influential pollster and former Conservative adviser Luke Tryl told me for my column in the upcoming print edition of Byline Times, the idea that such rhetoric has any real resonance with the general public “is in itself an elite luxury belief”.
“This stuff about ‘15 minute cities’, or ‘woke science’, these things just don't come up in focus groups. They are just a very elite discussion,” Tryl said.
So is there any way that Sunak’s attempt to embrace anti-elitist elitism can still turn things around, or does it just confirm to an increasingly angry electorate that his party is even more out of touch with their concerns than they previously thought?