Opinion

What happens if the Tories win?

What would happen if the pollsters are wrong, and the Conservatives are re-elected for five more years?

Rishi Sunak after calling the 4 July general election

Image: Edward Massey/CCHQ/Flickr

In the closing days of this general election campaign, the Conservative Party has decided its best chance of staying in power is to frighten people. The party’s official account on Twitter (currently X) is ablaze with remarkable claims. 

“You’ve got three days to protect your house”, yells one post, warning of “Labour’s home tax”. “Keir Starmer would steal your hard-earned money with 17 new taxes”, claims another, illustrated with a picture of the former director of public prosecutions dressed as a burglar. “Don’t let your children walk into Labour’s tax trap,” says another

Perhaps my favourite has a video of a red carpet being rolled out on a beach, with the message: “Labour’s approach to illegal immigration.” In one picture, now withdrawn, an elderly man, woman and a child raise their arms as if at gunpoint under the words: “Don’t surrender your family’s future to Labour.” The message is clear, if derivative: New Labour, New Danger. 

OK, two can play at this game. What would happen if the pollsters are wrong, and the Conservatives are re-elected for five more years?  

The attack advert might go something like this: Imagine a world of sick patients on beds in hospital corridors. Working families struggling to cover the food and bills. Prisons overflowing. Schools falling apart. Poverty exploding. People sleeping on the streets. A comatose economy. Rivers full of sewage. Prison ships crammed with foreign visitors seeking refuge. Children’s teeth falling out.

Imagine a government of corrupt and trivial politicians who lie about the causes of a financial crash and punish the poor for the sins of the rich. Who tear up international alliances to appease fanatics and further their careers. Who break the laws they set for the public, and hold parties while thousands die alone in a plague. Who organise the ritual applause of health workers and then deny them a pay rise. Politicians who run the country like an experiment, and expect to be thanked by their victims. 

In other words, (and as close readers will have guessed), one does not need to imagine what life would be like if the Tories win. The dystopia arrived long ago, and we’ve all been living in it. If you want to know what they would do, take a look at what they have done. 

As grim propositions, you might think this was hard to beat. Fear not! The Conservatives have given it their best try. 

According to their own campaign, the Tories would cut the already tattered social safety net to fund the great miracle cure they call “tax cuts”. They would open new oil and gas fields, as if the climate can be haggled with or impressed by their “pragmatic approach to net zero”. Teenagers can look forward to mandatory “national service”, presumably on the grounds that the young should set a good example. 

Immigration will be subject to an “annual cap”, because why should immigrants have all the fun? And of course, asylum seekers will be bundled off to Rwanda in their hundreds, which certainly would “send a message”, as would joining Russia, Belarus and Vatican City outside the European Convention on Human Rights. (Question not asked in this election: What do people expect will happen the day after we “stop the boats”?) Having spent 14 years in office, the Conservatives are promising all this and more. With an election platform like this, you don’t need to be Orwell or Zamyatin. Merely reciting the facts is dystopian enough. 

Of course, this thought experiment does beg the question of how exactly the Tories might win re-election. In his clever self-described “short story” in the New Statesman on “how Rishi Sunak accidentally won the 2024 general election”, Will Dunn posits 1. an electoral pact with Nigel Farage’s Reform UK, and 2. that an angry but hopeless public would re-elect Rishi Sunak simply to torture him, like a criminal in the stocks: “After 14 years of being robbed and brutalised, the People were too angry for change. All they wanted was revenge.”

While fun, this fails to convince. People might vote for “a likeable bastard, a cartoon sleazeball, a popular fool” (Johnson, Trump, Farage?), but only if they think he or she will do something for them. The Dunn scenario overstates the electorate’s sado-masochism. 

If the Conservatives are returned to power, it will be because they successfully scared the public into believing their lies about “Starmergeddon”. Voters might not have much, (the Tories have seen to that), but they don’t want Labour to take it away – even (especially?) if Labour gives it to someone who needs it more. (Witness how Labour’s tax on private school fees to pay for state school teachers was received as if the party had proposed requisitioning grain.) 

This would of course hand the Conservatives a licence for more of the same – more lies, more official racism (the good kind, against foreigners, rather than the bad kind, against prime ministers), more austerity, more Tory psychodrama, more insults to the public’s intelligence; and through it all, the daily hollowing out of society. 

For a while, it would also mean more of Sunak’s excruciating personality – now with added mandate! – but he would surely fall victim to the Tory meat grinder before long. The modern Conservative Party is ungovernable. It’s a threat to public order, and should be put out of our misery. 

But if the public does vote for five more years of this, then it will mean the country has a bigger problem on its hands than a broken government. It would mean that something has broken in the electorate too. In such an outcome, perhaps Bertolt Brecht’s satirical advice to “dissolve the public and elect a new one” would become the only sane option. 

Adam Barnett is a journalist for DeSmog and others.

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