14 years of Tory 'progress'


Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman and cartoonist Steve Bell get ready to celebrate the end of an era 



OK constitutionally Rishi Sunak could stretch out his Prime Ministership to January 2025 but in all likelihood there will be a General Election in 2024. With every possibility Keir Starmer will bring to a resounding end 14 years of Tory progress (ahem!) 

To put this in context whenever that General Election is held 2024's first time voters, unless they were astonishingly politically precocious during their pre-school years, will have only known Tory governments for their entire lifetime. 

We have to go back even further for the last time Labour won a General Election, Tony Blair  in 2005. Blair had won with a landslide in 1997 but by the time of his third consecutive win, 2005, Labour's share of the vote had slumped from 43.5% in 1997 to 35.2%, a government elected on the lowest share of the vote, ever. Jeremy Corbyn's campaign in 2019 has quite rightly been recorded as an electoral disaster for Labour yet his heavy defeat was with a share of the vote, 32.1%, not far off to what in 2005 returned Blair to office with a 66 seat majority. Not only is this never, ever, mentioned, but neither is much attention paid to the  perversities of our electoral system that can produce two startingly different outcomes on such similar vote shares. 

Quite where Steve Bell's inspired notion of portraying the first of 14 year's worth of Tory Prime Ministers as a condom-headed posh boy came from goodness only knows but to mix contraceptive metaphors if the cap fits.....

After Major, Hague ,Duncan-Smith and Howard the Tories finally had a leader, condom head or no condom head, who was able to make Labour look tired, running out of both ideas and time. Cameron's PMQs quip to Blair ' You were the future, once' absolutely inspired. 

Blair's long-time rival, Gordon Brown, was his natural successor. Though just to be sure  Brown and his cabal of Brownites twisted Labour MPs' arms to ensure the growing grassroots support for John McDonnell didn't result in a contest.  Never mind, yet when the subsequently much-lauded Brown entirely failed to create a popular-progressive narrative around the causes and consequences of the 2008 crash his days were numbered. Since the '97 landslide Labour had steadily cast itself as the new establishment, a safe pair of hands the country could trust. When this was shattered, first by the Iraq War for Blair, second by Brown with the crash, well why not give the new guy who hugs hoodies and drives a sled across the climate change threatened arctic instead?  

2010 was of course a close-run thing, and would have been even closer if Brown had gone beyond mouthing 'I agree with NIck' to laying the basis for a Lab-Lib coalition. Instead condom-head enters Number Ten with a little help from Nick Clegg, for the next five years hilariously portrayed by Steve as Cameron's loyal and obedient lapdog.

Parliamentary politics can be a dirty business, apart from those who entirely reject the 'parliamentary road to socialism' most of us get that and find ways to accommodate this alongside our desire for ways of conducting politics considerably better. But for the generation of 2010 the sins committed against their education were off the scale. A party that just months earlier had campaigned to abolish university tuition fees was now voting to triple them. A Lib-Dem lapdog that never barked. Revolting students, I mean that in the nicest possible way, descended on Westminster, surrounded Parliament and breaking with the well-worn tradition of marching A to B stormed the Tory Party HQ.  This was all too much for Labour, now led by Ed Miliband, who mouthed some platitudes about the betrayal of students before loudly condemning them protesting. The supposedly left-wing lecturers union, the UCU, not much better, solidarity with their students tokenistic, the sectionalism of tripled tuition fees that fill lecturers' wage packets trumping their radicalism. 

Meanwhile in Scotland Labour Unionism disconnected the party from a huge chunk of its support. Independence didn't win the 2014 referendum vote but that defeat wasn't secured by the Tories alone. Labour's support was central to that. And the Tories little-helper-in-chief? Gordon Brown. At the 2015 General Election the result was that Labour lost Scotland, reduced from 41 seats to 1, the SNP the sole beneficiaries, up from 6 to 56 MPs. 

Still, at least some good news 49 of Nick Clegg's 56 Con-Dem MPs lose their seats. Condom-head isn't able to ditch his coalition partners fast enough. Meanwhile Labour minus those 40 Scottish seats look further away from a General Election victory (note, those who claim Corbyn's 2019 disaster the worst Labour result ever, Miliband and Brown both achieved significantly lower shares of the vote than Corbyn).

Condom-head couldn't be happier, a long Premiership stretched out ahead of him, all that remained was to crush the UKIP irritant and Tory fellow-travellers who made it their business to give Cameron as little respect as they could get away with. And he would have succeeded, won the EU referendum, if he'd not allowed his side of the argument to become 'Remain'.  Reducing being European, which most of us are entirely happy with, to one institutuin we mostly tolerate. The timidity of Remain vs the boldness of 'Take Back Control'  there was only ever going to be one winner.

And the day after, condom-head jauntily walks away from the mess he had almost single-handedly created.

Thus in 2016 Theresa May, complete with leopard skin kitten-heels, becomes Prime Minister without being elected as such.The kitten-heeled footwear succeeding contraceptive headgear as Steve Bell's signifier of what the Tories march of progress represents. 

When kitten-heels showed some bite and called a snap 2019 General Election every single political commentator, and a fair few Labour MPs, confidently predicted a Labour wipe out. A divided parliamentary party, in open revolt more like, Corbyn demonised in the media, he was doomed, surely? Although its been written out of Labour's recent history, quite the reverse. For the first time since 1997 Corbyn's Labour increased the number of Labour MPs, something Miliband, Brown, Blair in 2005 and 2001 failed to do. Wipeout? No, a hung parliament.

And the consequence of this was Labour, if it worked with the other opposition parties and the increasing number of dissident Tory MPs, could block every effort by kitten-heels to rush through Brexit.  Which again written out of history, Corbyn did, leading not only his own Labour MPs but the entire opposition plus the Tory dissidents through the voting lobby again and again to thwart May's ill-conceived Brexit plans. 

Unitil eventually she was forced out by her own MPs, left to kick her kitten-heels elsewhere, a Tory Prime Minister brought down by the Corbyn-led opposition. 

And then we have bum-face, unarguably Steve Bell's greatest creation. Bum-face's mission, to get Brexit done. But despite the public school bluster he couldn't, because Corbyn maintained his Parliamentary Popular Front. If there's one thing above all else bum-face fears it's scrutiny, and in particular Parliamentary scrutiny. So what did he do? Close Parliament down, 'prorogue' a posh word for a coup.  But when he was forced to re-open the House of Commons an over confident SNP aided by Lib-Dem leader Jo Swinson, gave him exactly what he wanted. An escape route out of the rigour of such scrutiny, an early General Election, an arena in which his populism, crucially aided by a regressive alliance with Farage's Brexit Party, could only succeed against Labour's now hopelessly confused public position on Brexit. Win the General Election, send the party's Brexit Minister to Brussels for six months to negotiate the best possible exit package then hold a second referendum in which the Labour Party would campaign against its own deal. The architect of this monstrosity of a policy? Mmm, the name escapes me... 

So bum-face gets what he wants, all the advances Labour made in 2017 reversed and then some. Bum-face now has a majority to do with what he wants, while the country pays the price, a price when Covid struck which proves lethal.   

The rest is (recent) history. Despite a Parliamentary party with a near non-existent centrist group of MPs cast in awe of his bum-faced leadership even they, fearing the multiple loss of their seats, tire of Johnson's disastrous antics.  The tussling of his expensively well-groomed hair masquerading as political leadership had run out of time. 

And so, Liz Truss. No sooner had Steve cast her as a figure of crouching under-achievement and she is gone, but not before she had blown any remaining credibility of her party's fitness for government to smithereens.

Which leaves us with Steve's mini-Rishi to pick up the pieces. A task he has proved entirely unfit for.   

14 years of Tory progress. The descent of Conservative man, and woman, drawn large by the country's most well-loved political cartoonist. And when this lot is finally over next year Steve Bell will no doubt be ready to unleash his other creation, Sir Cardboard Starmer. Can't wait.



Steve Bell's 14 Years of Tory Progress mug, plus tea towel, T-shirt and framed limited edition print signed by Steve is exclusively available from Philosophy Football here  


Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ' sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction, aka Philosophy Football