It is said that Winston Churchill once referred to Clement Attlee as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing,” yet over seventy years later it’s the domestic policies of Attlee’s post-war Labour Government which continue to define UK public services.
Today we find a different sort of Tory leader, one less gifted when it comes to rhetoric…or indeed anything whatsoever, one less concerned with beating their opponent than stealing from it. This week appears to have seen May’s latest attempt to grasp for Labour’s political turf, her third to my count, with rumours circulating that she is about to raise the cap for at least some public service workers and take some sort of action to curb student fees.
Putting aside that it’s hard to see quite how they can deliver such policy changes while honouring their existing commitments, this shows the real problems the Tories now face: they have no clear agenda for Government.
In 2010, they managed to bluster through with an programme based on the idea that cutting UK public services would somehow end a global recession, in 2015 we started to see them gradually rolling out an authentic old Tory agenda only to have it stopped in its tracks with the Referendum, under May everything has turned to Brexit. The Tories find themselves unable to construct any clear direction for the country until they have disentangled themselves from forty years of collective agreements, from the impossible promises they made to the people, so they instead attempt to keep the wolves from the door by cherry-picking policies they believe will appeal to one group or another. They don’t understand that something is changing in our politics, triangulation is no longer a sound political strategy and people want change that goes beyond the mere superficial.
In the face of this change the Tories are like a sheep donning the clothes of a wolf, the outcome will be just as tragic and just as final.