“The Tory Party, as such, is extinguished,” exulted the Whig lawyer Henry Cockburn, following the passing of the 1832 Reform Act. Although the subsequent general election appeared to vindicate that judgement, there have been 22 Tory prime ministers since that utterance (most of them, it sometimes seems, within the past five years), demonstrating the unwisdom of making premature announcements of the death of the Tory Party.

Yet no political entity is immortal and never before, in its long history since 1681, has the Tory Party looked more doomed to extinction. A political movement seldom succumbs permanently to the attacks of its opponents, though it may suffer temporary eclipse: what is lethal is an internal malaise that destroys a party from within, which is very evidently the case with the Conservative Party today. It is not being killed off by its feeble and inept opponents: it is committing suicide.