The year is 1990, the Berlin Wall has fallen and Communism is in retreat around the globe, Apartheid is crumbling in South Africa and the Gulf war begins. In the UK a dominant Margaret Thatcher survives a leadership challenge from inside the Conservative Party by a huge margin. Despite the poll tax riots and low approval ratings Thatcher remains confident in her leadership of the country and her party.
Beneath the surface however, it is a Conservative party filled with deep unrest, be it from grassroots party members through to cabinet colleagues. Senior members were unhappy with her support for the poll tax and had big differences of opinion on the UK’s place in the European community.
One such figure was Geoffrey Howe the Deputy Prime Minister, who was the last surviving member of the 1979 cabinet. Howe was unhappy with Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to agree a timetable for the UK to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. On the 1st November 1990, Mr Howe resigned from the Conservative party and his position as Deputy Prime Minister.
This one event triggered a cataclysm of acrimonious resignations, party in fighting and a leadership challenge that would result in Mrs Thatcher would be ousted from the Conservative party. Bringing to an end an 11 year tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Flash forward to early 2016: A dominant Conservative party has won a huge majority at the General Election sweeping aside all opposition. David Cameron negotiates a new agreement with the EU which he deems to be the best deal for Britain and calls for a referendum in which the British People will confirm that belief. His chancellor George Osborne delivers an early budget including a reform of pension tax relief and ending in a number of cuts to disability benefits.
Like the Thatcher government, the Conservative party of 2016 is deeply divided over Europe and Britain’s place in it, there is also concern that the policy of austerity is failing to address overriding economic issues. Factional lines have been drawn within the party and where there was once unity there is now discord and open opposition.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Minister, resigns in disgust at the watering down of proposed disability cuts and the compromises made. His assertion being that the withdrawals and compromises are obviously an attempt to appease middle to high income voters who traditionally vote conservative and to keep them on side ahead of the EU referendum.
It is an assertion that is backed by many colleagues within the party, but rejected by even more. Impartial observers cannot hearken back to the Thatcher government and wonder, will history repeat itself? Will the Conservative party implode as it did before?
The old saying “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it” has never been more right. David Cameron, aware of the damage one resignation can do and the tenuous nature of the situation has been keen to smooth things over with those individuals who question both the budget and the Conservative parties’ role in Mr Duncan Smith’s resignation.
Whether the Conservative party slides into civil war and leadership contests will be determined by what David Cameron and his colleagues do next. Civil War in the party benefits nobody. The only winners from such a dangerous course may well be the Labour party, still licking its wounds from its worst election performance for a decade.
If I were Jeremy Corbyn, I’d be praying for more of the same resignations and infighting from the Conservatives. Only that could get me into power.
© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.