Falling Down by Phil Burton-Cartledge – Review
By Alex Mair
The Tory party is arguably the most successful political party on Earth. Founded in 1834, it is the oldest surviving political party amongst the democratic nations of Europe. Its demise has repeatedly been predicted as imminent. In 1900, when the Labour Party was founded, it was widely predicted the Tory Party would be eclipsed by the political wing of organised Labour. A triumph for the liberals in 1906, and the election of the first cohort of Labour MPs, seemed to confirm this. The 20th century, they said, would be a century of freedom and liberation. In the end, the Tory Party went on to govern for 32 of the first 50 years of the 20th century.
In 1945, Labour defeated the Tories in a historic landslide. The high noon of British socialism had come. Surely now the Tory party faced extinction. Yet the Tories would go on to hold power for another 32 years until the year 2000. It seems no matter what, the British Conservative and Unionist Party stubbornly refuses to die.
So it’s a brave author who confidently predicts the demise of the Tory party, but that’s exactly what Phil Burton-Cartledge does. In Falling Down, the professor of Sociology at Derby University, claims the Tory future looks uncertain, despite its current rude health in recent elections and in the opinion polls. He states that the recent astonishing election victories have come at the cost of undermining the party’s long-term fortunes.
Burton-Cartledge puts forward a good defense of his argument, but the predictions aren’t new – the Tory relationship with Generation X and Millennials has been exhaustively covered elsewhere.
The book is also padded with a recent history of the Tory Party, its leaders from Thatcher onwards, and the labyrinthine journeys through the Tory party machine, which above all, loves winning elections. This is hardly the forensic analysis of the party’s decline that the title demands. I also doubt whether there are many readers truly interested in a minute dissection of the inner workings of local Conservative Associations.
“Fall off an electoral cliff”
It’s a shame because much of Falling Down is enjoyable and revealing. Burton-Cartledge does a fine job of putting forward a bold thesis at a time of great hubris for Conservatives and The Conservative Party in general. He points to many things that are interesting and which many mainstream commentators have disregarded.
For example, with growing inequality, and a housing market which has become so inflated, getting onto the property ladder is a distant dream for most people under the age of 30. Therefore, Generation X and the Millennials are becoming conservative at a later age than their parents and grandparents.
Take Tony Blair’s father, Leo Blair a former Conservative Party candidate and aspiring Conservative Politian. He changed from being a communist to a Conservative Party member when he trained as a barrister in his mid-twenties. It was simple, he aspired to join the middle-classes, so he became a Tory. Evidence suggests that that particular generational trend is coming to an end. Younger generations of voters are not switching to the Tories as they grow older. It the present trend continues, and unless the Tory Party does something drastic to create new Tory voters – which would necessitate a dramatic reversal of housing policy – the Conservatives are about to fall off an electoral cliff.
Sir John Curtis, Britain’s senior elections expert says that in two election cycles, the Tories are toast. But equally we might discover what many others have found out: It’s a courageous man who bets against the Tory Party.
‘Falling Down: The Conservative Party and the Decline of Tory Britain’ by Phil Burton-Cartledge is published by Verso, £18.99 hardback