Ex-Tory MP, Michael Portillo’s new two-part documentary, The Trouble with the Tories on Channel 5, is a quick glance behind the guarded curtain of the internal squabbles and chaotic decline within the Conservative Party over the past fifty years.
In the midst of an existential crisis for the Tories, Portillo assembles senior Tory figures from the last half century to make candid assessments of their crumbling party. From start to finish it is abject despair from the political representatives of capital.
Portillo attempts to trace out why the Tories are in crisis due to Brexit. In this, Portillo guides us through interviews and archive footage of an assorted cast of Tory figures from Heath to Heseltine, right through to Johnson. However, he is primarily focussed on Margaret Thatcher as being the highly influential individual that ushered in the divide in the Tories on the issue of Europe.
Despite interviewing a variety of Tories, Portillo is unable to give a convincing narrative as to why the Tories are now facing an unprecedented crisis. It feels like he’s giving a potted history of the Tory Party which is neither entertaining nor accurate. You’d expect a little more insight from a senior Tory, but this shows that even the most senior Tories do not understand how they got into this crisis or how to get out of it.
One of the highlights is a candid interview with Heseltine where he states, “…they [the Tories] understand the nature of power. Without power you achieve nothing. So, they are very successful at securing power and to secure power they need unity.”
In normal times there has always been a façade of unity, with any conflicts going on strictly behind closed doors. This façade of unity became clear as day when a section of the party supported a vote of no confidence in Theresa May's leadership of the party last December, only to close ranks and prevent a vote of no confidence in May's government, to prevent a general election and a Corbyn government. However, the façade reached its limits last week when Boris Johnson removed the whip from the 'rebel' Tories, exposing the depth of the crisis within the party.
Cracks emerge throughout between the old Tory grandees, such as Michael Heseltine, Nicholas Soames and Kenneth Clarke, and the ardent Thatcherites, such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg. This has now come to a head, with Kenneth Clarke among those who had the whip withdrawn by Johnson. Gone are the days of the so-called ‘pragmatic’ far-sighted Tories who “understand the nature of power”.
It is clear that the British ruling class has lost all control over the party, which has, to the horror of serious capitalist strategists, shifted away from the 'reasonable' or 'moderate' wing of the party, towards the flag waving xenophobes on the far right of the party. Now the ruling class is looking to act not through the Tories, but through a 'national unity' government, to be led by someone less 'divisive' than Corbyn and made up of the so called 'rebel alliance' of Labour, SNP, Lib Dems,Change UK and the 'rebel' Tories.
Portillo opens his documentary by proudly declaring, “For two centuries the Conservative party has shaped Britain.” He’s wrong. It has been the monumental efforts of the working-class that have shaped Britain only for the ruling class to steal the wealth that we created. The stable alliance between the ruling class and their far-sighted representatives in the Tory party has been torn apart, the establishment has lost control of the political situation, now is the time for the whole labour movement to fight for the socialist transformation of society in the interests of the working class.