It should surprise nobody that our airwaves are abuzz with analyses of this week’s local election results. With over 1,300 Conservative councillors suddenly separated from their expense accounts, it’s inevitable that more than a couple of columnists have noticed that the Tories have returned their worst local election results since the rout of John Major in 1995. We all know what happened a couple of years later when New Labour swept all before them.
While this is a useful yardstick to measure the scale of the catastrophe, the simple arithmetic glosses over a deeper and more fundamental connection those two electoral nightmares. This is a case where superficial differences hide a deeper and more fundamental thread of continuity.
That thread is, of course, the European Union and Britain’s perennially uneasy place inside it.
It’s worth noting that Margaret Thatcher survived the miners’ strike, the Falklands gamble and even the Poll Tax fiasco, but it was her steadfast opposition to the Maastricht Treaty and the creation of the European Union that finally galvanised her own party to wield the knife. Pundits can wax lyrical about Michael Heseltine’s principled stance on the Westland issue, but it’s no coincidence that he’s now uttering his ermine-collared judgements on the horrors of Brexit from the safety of the upper chamber. That a senior frontbencher would knowingly weaken his own party in order to remove a major obstacle to European integration should tell you much about the true loyalties of the Tory grandees.