Conservatives and Karansebes

The Conservative Party is dangerously close to being caught up in an internal battle that will kill off its ground forces and allow Miliband's Turks into the village

On 20 May 2013 11:22

According to reports written long after the Austro-Turkish War, in 1788 the Austrian army inadvertantly battled amongst itself in an incident plagued by hysteria, language barriers and alcohol. 

During the apocryphal Battle of Karánsebes, around 100,000 Austrian troops were decimated by their own counterparts, leaving the hated Turks to take the body-ridden Romanian village with ease just two days later. 

According to Geoffrey Regan, author of The Brassey's Book of Military Blunders, some drunken cavalrymen got into a dispute over the sharing of schnapps with their infantry colleagues, resulting in the blockade of booze barrels and shots being fired. There were shouts in the melee, that the Turks had arrived, causing everyone to fire upon everyone else. 

The battle escalated, with cavalry charges, misheard orders, and mass desertions. Eventually, we are led to believe, 10,000 were left dead or wounded, and the commander of the cavalry, Holy Roman Emporer Joseph II himself, was apparently flung from his horse into a nearby small creek.

To me, no finer a historical military blunder can be found in order to illustrate the Conservative Party's current misfortunes. 

The party is comprised of Austrian infantrymen, seeking to defend against the Ottoman Turks (Labour), but instead finding itself in heated, drunken debates with the Tory, cavalry leadership over name-calling, policy-blockades and internal UKIP hysteria. Of course, it's all fuelled by alcohol.

One wonders what kind of politico or politician really believes that calling a party's membership "swivel-eyed loons" is really all that terrible? If we're being honest about it, be we Left, Right or otherwise inclined, our penchant for politics is precisely what makes us swivel-eyed loons in the first place. Here we are, all trying to clamour, as Carl Sagan noted, so that "in glory and in triumph we can become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot." Sounds pretty mad to me.

But the uproar from Tory associations and pressure groups has been dishonest. Seizing on the chance to stick the knife in, they all disclose themselves as swivel-eyed loons anyway. Those with any sense of reality would have shrugged such comments off. The fact that the base in unable to laugh at itself is another key indicator of swivel-eyed lunacy.

Yes, I understand that those at the senior end of the party should be more sympathetic and grateful to its footsoldiers, but a throw-away comment is hardly indicative, as some would have you assume, of a wider "Tory toff" bias at the helm of the Conservative Party. Is there one? Sure. That's what happens when people get power - they keep their friends close. If those friends just so happened to be at Eton with them then of course a certain mindset will take root.

But the faux anger is evidently misplaced frustration on the same old policy areas that the base is concerned with. It's schnapps, to return to the Karánsebes metaphor, is Europe, gay marriage, and government spending. In none of these areas has the Tory leadership reflected what most of the base has wanted all along. 

On Europe, the response was too slow, and defections to UKIP as well as election results create an air of despondency within the party. On gay marriage, the government's clumsy and forceful proposals will no doubt ostracise much of the conservative grassroots, who aren't necessarily against gay marriage, but are certainly against the blunt proposals in front of the House today. On government spending, the leadership seems to have lost its way - with not enough focus on economics, and far too much time given to lower priority issues. 

It is for this reason that we are now hearing of mass desertions, the countless shots fired, the hunkering down of the leadership and indeed, the claim that Miliband's Turks are afoot, despite the reality that the enemy is scarcely ready for the fight.

All politicos must hold their hands up to the fact that we're swivel-eyed loons. That many would give up weekends to leaflet or canvass, spend evenings at lectures on trade policy, and dream of the day they might be paid £9,000, £20,000 or indeed £60,000 a year to be a public whipping boy (or girl) is a sure sign of this.

But Cameron's contingent must stop firing from the inside, out - and the base needs to calm its claims to the booze barrels down. If not, the Prime Minister will end up like the Joseph II himself, flung from his horse into a nearby small creek - and the Turks will come marching in to Karánsebes without a fight on their hands.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of and tweets at @RaheemJKassam

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