SUNDAY POST ARTICLE OF 7 JULY 2024

WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG FOR THE TORIES

Fourteen years in power. Five prime ministers in eight years. When Rishi Sunak stood in the pouring rain to announce a snap election, Keir Starmer must have thought the Gods were smiling on him. Sunak then went from gaffe to gaffe, first visiting the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, then disastrously, leaving the D Day commemorations early. 

The Tory Party’s steep decline can trace its roots back to the election of David Cameron as Prime Minister on 11th May 2010. Cameron won the leadership of the Party having pledged to tear the team of Tory MEPs out of the ruling European People’s Party (EPP) majority group in the European Parliament, forcing them to join a new, ragtag, ultra-right-wing Eurosceptic group called the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). 

Cameron’s masterplan was to show the arch anti-Europeans in the Tory Party how his muscular Euroscepticism could tame the demands for a Brexit referendum. It was a spectacular miscalculation. At a stroke, Cameron fractured Britain’s influence in the EU. Far from silencing the Brexiteers, demands for a referendum on EU membership burgeoned. After winning the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, Cameron assumed that he could win a referendum on EU membership. His plan failed. It was the end of Cameron’s inauspicious premiership and the beginning of a long struggle to secure an amicable divorce from Brussels. 

With a slim majority of only 13 MPs, Theresa May called a general election to give herself a working majority. Everything went wrong. The election resulted in her losing her majority entirely and having to rely on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. Finally, in June 2019 she admitted defeat and stood down as PM, paving the way for Boris Johnson to enter Downing Street. Boris called for a December election that year, with the rallying cry that he could ‘Get Brexit Done’, winning a landslide victory with an 80-seat majority.  

Boris was perhaps the worst possible person to be prime minister just as the Covid pandemic struck and the partygate scandals erupted. A mass revolt by ministers over his leadership led to his resignation as PM in September 2022, making way for Liz Truss and her catastrophic 49 days in office. Her infamous minibudget caused panic in the financial markets. Interest rates rose, mortgages soared, inflation spiralled. She stood down as PM after only 49 days, making way for Rishi Sunak. 

It was the final straw for the exhausted British people who wanted change. Having secured the greatest Labour majority in more than a century, Keir Starmer may now reflect that the architect of his success was David Cameron, possibly the worst Tory prime minister in British history.