The following article represents the views and thoughts of its author. CARE is not affiliated with any political party.
Okay, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. This isn’t going to be a column primarily about the Rwanda-plan this time. We’ve covered all-things-immigration from multiple angles in recent months; you can read our concerns about the bill around human trafficking here, or about the impact of the immigration debate on society here, or even a Biblical theology of immigration over here. Been there, written that.
No, this is going to be a column about the state of the Conservative Party. Because within the last day or two, precipitated by the resignation of Robert Jenrick, the Immigration Minister, the Rwanda-plan seems to be taking on an even greater significance for the government, to the extent that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had to hold an emergency press conference; almost every question pressed him around the same issue…whether, if he lost the vote in Parliament next week, this would effectively be a vote of no confidence in the Government.
Today, almost all the front-pages were dominated by the same issue: “Ousting PM would be insanity, says Tory chairman” was the lead-piece in the Telegraph. “Sunak fights to hold Tories together over Rwanda plan”, wrote the Guardian. “Tories are imploding”, said the Express. (One notable exception was the Daily Star, which ran with the far-more eye-catching, “Airport smuggler is caught with half a zoo down his undies!”)
Yes, the Conservatives are at it again.
At CARE, we are for good government, wherever it is found. It is one of our core convictions that “The authorities that exist have been established by God”, and that “The one in authority is God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:1, 4). God is the one who appoints governments and gives them responsibility, and good government is actually His idea!
The problem is, what we’re seeing is not good government.
Now it goes without saying that all human government ultimately falls short of the standards of God’s kingdom, for all humans are themselves sinful and flawed, and fall short of those standards as individuals. And we do not expect today’s Conservatives to reach perfect standards.
But we do believe in good government: a government which seeks to serve others in the national interest, rather than spending its time navel-gazing and serving itself, which is predicated around basic Christian principles such like goodness, generosity and truth, and which presents a clear vision which is the benefit of all, particularly the vulnerable.
I mentioned in my most recent column about Suella Braverman’s dismissal that I lean to the right politically; in the three general elections I’ve been allowed to vote in, I’ve gone Conservative twice, and for an independent candidate once. So - as a preamble to the critique which follows - I am their natural supporter base. I really want to see them succeed!
And - across a number of years, I might add - this iteration of the Conservative Party has given a pretty wretched account of itself. (Indeed, I actually have more sympathy for Rishi Sunak’s administration than for any of the last three.)
It’s easy to throw stones when one’s not in the thick of it, of course; and who is to say whether a Labour party which is hardly devoid of infighting (just see the eight Shadow Cabinet members who resigned after defying Keir Starmer over the Gaza-vote a handful of weeks ago) will do any better. I don’t know which I will be voting next year (and I would encourage everyone reading to think prayerfully about it, and examine what all the parties are promising when the time comes).
But we believe in good government. And this isn’t it.
“A city divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25), Jesus said, so it’s a wonder the Conservatives still have any bricks remaining. For even by the historic standards of the Conservative Party (which has always had a remarkable capacity for self-implosion, today’s iteration is riddled with division and disunity.
The Times ran a very helpful piece today explaining the four different main factions there are now within the Conservatives. There are the One Nation Tories, the centrists, whose seats are now at risk from the Liberal Democrats, and who are more aligned with the ‘compassionate Conservatism’ of David Cameron. There are the European Research Group, who were a thorn in the side of Theresa May over Brexit and ultimately hounded her out of office. There are the New Conservatives, with a particular emphasis on social issues. And there are the Conservative Growth group, the Trussites, whose main goal is to cut taxes. Any of those blocs - if it acted as a united front - would have the ability to imperil the government’s majority.
They have proved themselves until unable to be a united party in recent years. They were divided over having a Brexit vote. They were divided over how to implement the result of a Brexit vote. They were divided over Boris. They were divided over the economy. Now they’re divided over immigration. We all remember the “strong and stable” promise Theresa May made at an election a few years ago: this really is quite the opposite.
And all this occurs under the shadow of the impending General Election and the seeming inevitability of a crushing Conservative defeat. In the knowledge that the Party Leader ultimately has to pass its final test with the party membership in any contest, prospective hopefuls position themselves, each in turn, as the really right-wing candidate, in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with those who might ultimately be voting for them in a leadership contest.
It seems almost certain that the membership (who are, incidentally, out of step with much of the Parliamentary party) will elect as their next leader someone from the right of the party, whether that be Suella Braverman, Kemi Badenoch, or even, if he were allowed back into the party (as seems highly plausible in the long-term), a certain Nigel Farage, who made a high-profile appearance at the Conservative Party conference this autumn.
And so the spectre of yet another ‘No Confidence’ vote hangs over a Conservative Prime Minister. Conservative MPs are reported to have submitted around 18 letters of no-confidence (53 have to go in, in order to trigger a vote). It is highly likely that Sunak would comfortably win such a vote, but even if he did, it would likely mark the beginning of the end (as it did for Theresa May).
We’ve already had four Prime Ministers in five years. The Conservatives are in danger of changing manager at the same rate as my beloved Watford FC…
What, ultimately, do the Conservatives have to show for thirteen years in power? If questioned on their record, what could they point to? It’s hardly been a golden era of conservatism.
Almost everything has got worse.
The Conservatives supposedly believe in the institutions of the state: family, community and nation. And yet they have brought about more division than ever in each of those institutions, which began with the calling of the Scottish Independence and Brexit referenda (regardless of whether one was happy with the outcomes or not). In particular, it destroyed inter-generational relationships, with some young people (utterly tragically) seeing their grandparents as ‘destroying their futures’, and as the hindrance to their own individual prosperity.
The Conservatives are supposed to be the party with a reputation of economic competence. Indeed, that was partly the platform they ran on back in 2010, when David Cameron and George Osborne (somewhat unfairly) pinned the blame for the financial crash upon Gordon Brown. And yet in her short 45-day reign, Liz Truss ripped it all up with her catastrophic ‘KamiKwasi’ mini-budget which went against all the advice of the experts and crashed the economy. The tax burden is the highest it has been since the 1940s.
The Conservatives are supposed to be socially conservative; indeed, this is a defining reason why some Christians vote for them over alternative parties. But this is the Conservative Party which introduced same-sex marriage under David Cameron, which under Theresa May sought to reform the Gender Recognition Act, which has seen the ideological capture of many of the nation’s institutions (and its schooling system) by Stonewall and other lobby groups, and which imposed abortion upon Northern Ireland against its wishes. (In the interests of balance, at least Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have attempted to push back on elements of social policy in the last year).
That’s not even going into the merits (or otherwise) of austerity measures, their creation of a ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants (whilst letting immigration numbers rise), or the cutting of aid to developing nations.
As a Christian, I really am left wondering what they have achieved which has made the United Kingdom look more like God’s Kingdom (which is what I want to look for in any prospective government).
Now maybe in this last few months they will turn things around. But when people come to list the great British Prime Ministers, I suspect they won’t be looking at Cameron, May, Johnson, Truss or Sunak…
Spooked by the polls, the Conservatives have started to panic. The murmurings started in the final months of Boris Johnson’s administration, when the public patience finally wore off amid Partygate, Peppa-Pig-gate and Pincher-gate (that was ultimately one too-many gates, even for the seemingly impenetrable Boris Johnson!). At that point they were around 10 points behind Labour. By the time Liz Truss resigned, the gap had more than tripled to 30 points. Under Rishi Sunak, it’s consistently hovered at around 15-20 points, regardless of what he’s done.
But ultimately the problem with that is that - inevitably, and any other party would be the same! - rather than focusing on good government, the Conservatives have been trying to balance their national responsibility with looking to improve their ratings in the polls.
We began the year with Rishi Sunak’s five pledges: halving inflation, growing the economy, national debt falling, NHS waiting lists falling, and stopping the boats. A few months in, the Conservatives began to pivot towards a ‘stopping Net-Zero’ strategy, in the hope that that would be more popular with voters, following the backlash against Sadiq Khan and the London ULEZ zone. Now the focus is all on immigration and the Rwanda scheme, and seems to have also shifted towards the culture wars (eg. the Remembrance Day protests and the Parthenon Marbles debacle).
So what, ultimately, is the plan? I’ve lost track at this point.
And - with the Government’s prospects of overturning the gap in the polls resembling something between slim and non-existent - Conservatives are starting to distance themselves from their leadership.
52 of their MPs have already said that they won’t be seeking re-election, including hitherto major figures, such as Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid and Ben Wallace. Robert Jenrick, who resigned this week as Immigration Minister, was until very recently one of Rishi Sunak’s staunchest allies. He now seems to be presenting himself as a hardline right-winger to appeal to the membership. Many have speculated that Suella Braverman was trying to get herself sacked all along, so she couldn’t be associated with the Sunak administration.
Of course, it’s not easy to convince people to board a sinking ship. But when your Government are already planning for their time out of office when there could still be as much as a year still to go before the General Election, you know they’re not in a good place.
Divided. Defenceless. Desperate.
As a natural-Conservative voter, my verdict would be this: disappointed. And for those who aren’t natural Conservative voters, they certainly haven’t given them any reason to vote for them come next year (or for a long time after that).
At CARE, we believe in good government. And I don’t know the long-term solution to that in the UK. But this isn’t it.
In God’s mercy, as we approach Christmas, we’re likely to hear the words of Isaiah 9 read at our Carol Services, about a different government.
There is one government which will rule forever; it is not that of any ordinary human. It belongs to the ‘God-man’, Jesus Christ, who reigns with justice and righteousness and peace. His standards are beyond those of any human administration. Unlike many politicians, He keeps His promises. And He always gets things right.
Thank heavens for that.