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Casual dinner and conversation: The crisis of the centre right
These are dark days for centre-right parties. The Conservative Party, which has produced most of Britain’s great prime ministers, has in recent years resembled nothing so much as a pub brawl. Talk has been rife that the party of Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher will split. And a view is emerging that, unless the Tories regain their will to govern and their ability to connect with the British people, the splintering of the Conservative party looks frighteningly likely.
But something else is at issue here: do the Tories’ troubles reflect a more general problem with centre-right parties in the Anglosophere? At the heart of the matter is the extent of the philosophical divisions: Tories seem divided between small-l liberal Remainers and conservative Brexiteers. In the US, Republicans are divided between mainstream conservatives and Trumpian populists. And Australian Liberals, as the 2022 federal election showed, are divided between the conservative rank-and-file supporters and the metropolitan constituents who voted Teal and Labor in Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth, even Green in Brisbane.
The upshot is that western politics — far from being characterised by the old left-right ideological divide between capital and labour — is defined increasingly around identity issues, many of which are shaped by values. Having won over many working-class constituencies on cultural issues, can centre-right parties can keep them while they appeal to more progressive voters in erstwhile safe metropolitan seats and focus on low-tax and small-state values?