No British political party has won five general elections in a row since 1832. That is what the Conservatives are attempting to do on 4 July. Were the Tories to win it would be a record breaker. Conversely, Labour will have to break records for outright victory by achieving the biggest swing by an opposition ever.

In the two centuries since the Great Reform Act, the Conservatives have earned the reputation as the most successful election-winning machine in democratic politics. They governed more than the Liberals in the nineteenth century. They were in power for 65 years of the twentieth century. Since the turn of the millennium, there have been Conservative prime ministers for fourteen years to Labour’s ten. 

According to some of the direst predictions, that could all be about to come to an end and not just the defeat for Rishi Sunak which seems to be “priced in” by almost everyone on the right from Nigel Farage to David Cameron and Grant Shapps. The biggest rout ever could spell the permanent end of the Conservative party as the UK’s dominant political force. Perhaps even the end of the party altogether. 

Opinion polls, of course, are not the election result. It may be that the Conservatives’ relentless tax attacks on Labour starts turning things around or that Nigel Farage overreaches. Still, on the basis of the evidence out there so far – from recent byelections, local elections and two years worth of opinion polls, the other, ominous, existential scenario for the Conservative party deserves consideration.

“Number-crunching” in the campaign this year has been dominated by MRP methodology. Traditionally, experts took the national ratings for the parties and fed it into a uniform swing model to forecast the makeup of the next parliament. MRP takes a bigger sample and then tries to work out what is likely to happen constituency by constituency. 

This method has brought bad news for the Conservatives and is behind the prevalent low expectations about the party’s likely performance. 

MRP is finding that the more Conservative voters there were in a place in 2019, the bigger the swing is against the party now. This phenomenon does not take place in every election. There are logical reasons why it might be happening this year. Boris Johnson built a formidable, and perhaps unsustainable, coalition of voters to “get Brexit done”. Since then, his behaviour, the Conservative government’s record of delivery and the impact of Brexit have given ample grounds for disappointment and disillusionment in both the red wall and blue wall.

The outlook for the Conservatives could get worse. Another MRP method opinion poll put Reform UK one per cent ahead of the Conservatives. On the basis of this single outlier poll, Nigel Farage is claiming that he represents the true opposition now and that a vote for the Conservatives is a vote to help Labour. If his argument catches fire, the Conservatives might end up with fewer MPs than the Liberal Democrats, who would replace them as the main opposition party. 

For the purpose of this exercise, let us put that doomsday prediction aside and work from the comparatively optimistic pictures in the two recent major MRP polls. YouGov, published on 3 June gave Labour 422 MPs, Conservatives 140, Liberal Democrats 48, SNP 17. Survation published their MRP last weekend and carried out research after Farage took over the Reform UK campaign: Labour 456, Conservatives 72, Liberal Democrats 56, SNP 37, Reform 7.

Both these outlooks are worse for the Conservatives than the last three times the party was buried in landslides. They were left with 165 MPs in 1997, 213 in 1945 and 157 in 1906. 150 MPs or less is generally regarded as the death zone for a major party. 

The Conservatives seem to think such a dire outcome is a possibility. It has been featured in some of the party’s targeted advertisements on social media.

Civil war is already raging over the future of the party. Some “one nation” Conservatives, especially those already driven out in the post-Brexit era, are already declaring the death of the party. Former Conservative baroness, Patience Wheatcroft, says she will be celebrating the demise on 5 July. Former Cabinet Minister, Justine Greening, says the party has no future so long as it chases Reform and has “no clear political territory of its own”. Another ex Cabinet Minister, David Gauke, warns that the election “may just be the first part of a two-part implosion of the Conservative party in 2024”.

These critics decry the way in which May, Johnson, Truss and Sunak have each tried to accommodate the radical right, now trading as Reform UK, but they are no longer members of the party. Of more significance is the division among those who would still be in the remnants of the party after a smashing defeat, most of who struggle to say a bad word about “Nigel”. 

Farage has pictured himself as a prime minister at the election after next. Suella Braverman and Priti Patel have said they would welcome him as a Conservative party member. Sunak has repeatedly dodged ruling this out. But that old bruiser, David Davis, is pragmatically opposed. “When somebody tries to burn down the golf club, you don’t offer them membership, do you?”, he told us on Times Radio.

A union with the likes of Farage would take the Conservatives further from the centre ground. In the aftermath of defeat, there is no doubt who the ageing, dwindling, membership of the Conservative party would vote for, especially if Farage has shown himself to be a winner by, finally and conveniently, being elected to the Commons. Some Conservative candidates are already reported to be planning overtures to Reform. That would guarantee more fighting on the right, with the rest of the parliamentary party trying to resist the will of the members.

Whichever side MPs were on, Brexit permanently decommissioned “loyalty” as the secret weapon of the Conservative party. The three other defining ingredients of the Conservatives’ historic success have been defined as shape-shifting – the willingness to dump people or key policies, patriotism and jollification. They are not much in evidence today. 

Johnson, Truss, Cummings, Braverman, Frost et al and their divisive and failed ideas are still widely venerated by many Tory MPs and activists. Rishi Sunak did for patriotism at the D-Day commemoration. Demographics have changed. The cheerless bring-back-national-service (which we never did) pensioner brigade who make up the Tory membership, numbered just in the tens of thousands are a shrivelled vestige of the last century when millions in towns and shires partied as Young Conservatives. 

Earlier this year, Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader who has played his part radicalising his party, cautiously searched out a lesson from history. “If a party goes into opposition, there’s no guarantee of when it will get back or if it will ever get back”, he warned. “When the Liberals went into opposition in the 1920s, they never came back other than as a coalition partner every 30 years or so. There’s no guarantee of ever coming back.”

That demise was dubbed: “The Strange Death of Liberal England”. It has happened before. A natural party of government has dwindled into comparative irrelevance. Torygeddon, the last trump for the Conservative party as we have known it for the past 192 years, is one credible scenario with just over a fortnight to go before this general election.   

Write to us with your comments to be considered for publication at letters@reaction.life