We see it time and again. Whenever an internal disturbance is brewing, or some petty spat sneaks its way into the press, party officials rush quickly to dampen the flames of disquiet with mollifying platitudes, offering half-baked, unconvincing reassurances to their party faithful that all is well.
As much as every party, of whichever political hue, likes to maintain that it’s a ‘broad church’, reality tells a very different story. We’ve entered an age where differences of opinion are no longer welcome, let alone encouraged as part of healthy debate; where those who don’t fit the mould must be shut down and expelled, often via accusations of disloyalty and subterfuge; and where the hardening of one’s position seems to be the go to response to fresh thinking, or, all too often, any evidence that inconveniently undermines a predisposed belief.
Invariably, those who shout the loudest win. Recent history has shown that unless pre-emptive action is taken, the extreme will always triumph, sidelining those with more moderate views. Look to the rot that has seeped through the Republican Party thanks to the rise of the Tea Party movement across the US (which arguably laid the groundwork for Trump’s 2016 presidential victory), or the direction Labour has taken under Jeremy Corbyn who, emboldened by the vociferous and growing cult of the hard Left, has seemingly gained near untouchable status.
The threat of entrysim is real, and the Conservatives should be in no doubt, their party will be hijacked if they stand back and allow it to happen.
Calls from Tory associations to democratise the leadership election process (as if it isn’t already) are not innocuous and well-intentioned, but instead represent a regressive power grab that will place too much influence in the hands of grassroot activists. As William Hague argued earlier this week, it will lead to a system ‘easily swayed by the fashions of the moment, determined by unrepresentative minorities or unconnected from a much wider electorate.’
Far from cloak and dagger, Leave.EU, Arron Banks, and other miscreants of the rapidly sinking ship that is UKIP, have been brazen in their calls to ‘flood’ the Party to ‘elect a true Brexiteer.’ If the Tory top brass don’t have the gumption to snuffle this coup d’état now, they knowingly embark upon a course of political puritanism at their peril. A blue Momentum is on the rise, and like its successful red counterpart, it will end acrimoniously.
Already, there are rumours of deselection plots at the local level. This comes as no surprise. Most of these newly paid up members are politically homeless, huddling around a central preoccupation – Brexit – in the wilderness of Britain’s two-party system. Indeed, few have any real affinity to the Conservative Party. It is their shared apathy towards the EU, and mistrust of the establishment to deliver ‘the will of the people’, that has brought them together. No wonder they’re intent on purging those who don’t conform to their narrow, ideological view.
Moderate Tories have every right to feel worried. Backs to the wall, they must fight back, or else be engulfed. The arms race for the soul of the Conservative Party has begun.