Holding out for a hero

17 May 2017

As the 8th June draws closer, a Conservative victory seems ever more assured. With the Tories united behind Theresa May’s vision of Brexit, the Labour Party portrayed as increasingly out-of-touch with reality, and the more moderate parties too small to hold sway, it seems likely the United Kingdom will remain blue for at least another five years.


However, progressive voters should by no means abandon hope. This situation has faced the centre and centre-left of British politics before, and can, as history shows us, be overcome.


Twice since 1945 has this country faced seemingly endless Tory rule, only to have it eventually defeated by an opposition which was able to merge two key factors: fresh leadership and the support of popular culture.


The first instance of this was in 1964, when a 48-year-old Harold Wilson became Labour prime minister after thirteen years of Conservative rule. Whilst the Tories were able to hold together a reasonably stable government under Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, their popularity began to wane following the Suez Crisis. By the time Alec Douglas-Home took over from a weary Harold MacMillan in 1963, following the infamous Profumo Affair, the Conservatives had been reduced to an embarrassed group of elderly men who clearly felt more at home on the ‘grouse moor’ than in the Commons.


Wilson, by contrast, was seen as a bright new alternative. Precariously holding the centre-ground within his own party, he emerged as the jolly, number-crunching, pipe-smoking Yorkshireman the country needed to bring it back from patrician confusion.


Whether at the Labour Party conference or the Beatles’ Silver Hearts awards ceremony, Wilson was able to grab the attention of a public long since tired of grey, rambling Tories. With the 1960s cultural awakening in the air, the man who embodied the ‘white heat’ of revolutionary modernisation was duly rewarded with the premiership.


The second instance was the astounding rise of Tony Blair and New Labour in 1997. Following eighteen years of Conservative rule under the strong but divisive leadership of Margaret Thatcher and her more amiable successor John Major, Blair and his team were able to drag Labour out of stale opposition and into power.


This was no mean feat. Labour had been torn apart by in-fighting and, despite moving on from the radicalism of Michael Foot in the 1980s, had still been unable to convince the electorate that it could responsibly run the country.


Blair, though not without difficulty, was able to re-brand Labour as a more centrist organisation whilst retaining those more rebellious aspects of socialism which attracted the support of society’s younger elements. Sure enough, pop culture and the media fell in behind the 43-year-old. The Sun ran the headline ‘THE SUN BACKS BLAIR: Give change a chance’, and Noel Gallagher made a guest appearance at Number 10.


The question here is, quite simply, could it happen again? Many of the ingredients are there: a united Tory government, a deeply divided electorate, a weakened opposition crying out for innovative leadership and a looming crisis in the form of Brexit.


May’s government will most likely win the 2017 election by a considerable margin, but her already shaky image will doubtlessly begin to crumble as time passes. Perhaps a more capable successor will take over from the Tory ranks, but if such a figure exists then they currently remain elusive.


Jeremy Corbyn, though no doubt a well-intentioned man, will struggle to hold onto power in the Labour Party following a heavy electoral defeat, thereby opening up an opportunity for someone new within the next few years.


The stage would then be set for an enterprising soul to take up the mantle of opposition leader. Someone younger, more media-savvy and ideologically versatile than Corbyn, who may well even break with tradition and rise from a party other than Labour (whose current far-left approach is alienating centrist voters). From there this figure would then, like Wilson and Blair, need the backing of popular culture and a significant portion of the press in order to reach out to both the disenchanted youth and the respectable middle-aged.


With a post-Brexit Tory government losing support and the media willing to herald the new opposition leader as a voice of hope and change, he or she would stand a good chance of capturing that vital middle ground of swing voters. It would be a monumental task, but once the cracks begin to show in May’s ‘strong and stable’ leadership, the opportunity is there.





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