11 OCTOBER 2003, Page 38

The party's over

From Geoffrey Harrison Sir: Peter Hitchens is right in his analysis CA party split from top to toe', 4 October). I would go further — the Conservative party has been slowly dying since 1945 and its periods in office since then, admittedly prolonged, have been a massive anomaly.

The British electorate has been firmly Labour's ever since the second world war; it shares the party's general collectivist views that all problems should be tackled by government and has only turned it out of office when incompetence or the ideology has been pushed too far. In short, the appeal of Labour's cloak of 'fairness' is more attractive than the Conservatives' idea of individual responsibility. We no longer have the drab, grey and repressed Soviet empire as an awful warning of the dangers of pushing collectivism too far. Once circumstances permit, Britain turns to what it truly always wants: a Labour government.

Those of us who are Conservatives out of ideology must face the fact that three major shifts in the past 20 years have made it extremely unlikely that conditions will ever become parlous enough again — nor should we wish it — to persuade those other temporary Conservative voters, offended by incompetence or failure of collectivism, to turn to the Tories again. The Liberal Democrats provide a more congenial choice for the latter and they will inherit the Tories' mantle of leading opposition party.

Of those three shifts, globalisation and the advance of technology are beyond even Labour's misdirection. Both have delivered and will continue to deliver increasingly better terms of trade and goods and services of better quality and at lower cost.

The third, supply-side reforms and exit from the ERM, are secure. Even Labour politicians can learn from political and economic history; can anyone imagine the return of foreign-exchange controls, the closed shop or union reforms that would put us back to the 1970s? In fact, Gordon Brown implemented the one reform that even Thatcher and Major baulked at, Bank of England independence. Not even Mr Blair will attempt entry into the euro for the foreseeable future. In effect, Mrs Thatcher made it safe to vote Labour. And Britain will do so again and again.

Geoffrey Harrison

Farnham, Surrey