DISRUPTION seems to be the rule in politics as well as in business. Economic churn is promoting discontent with the status quo while technological innovation is making life easier for upstarts. The result is that long-established political parties such as France’s Socialists and Greece’s Pasok have crumbled, while insurgents have come from nowhere to form governments (in the case of Greece’s Syriza) or shake things up (like Italy’s Five Star Movement). Neither of France’s main parties has a candidate in the final round of the election on May 7th. In America Donald Trump has mounted a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.

Yet in Britain the world’s oldest political party is marching to an easy victory in the general election. The country has endured a decade of stagnation and austerity. Its public services are strained to breaking point. The Brexit referendum delivered the biggest shock to the political establishment since Suez and divided Britain down the middle. Yet the only question that troubles psephologists is whether the Tories will get a “small” majority of 30 or so or a blowout of more than 100.

Since Benjamin Disraeli pronounced that his Conservatives were a national party or else “nothing”, the Tories have tried to appeal to every class and region. Lord Salisbury put the union with Ireland at the heart of his politics. Tory prime ministers from Stanley Baldwin to Margaret Thatcher presented themselves as champions of a “property-owning democracy” against Labour’s divisive class politics. David Cameron tried to detoxify his party’s brand and sell it to sexual and ethnic minorities. Now Theresa May has a good chance of rising to Disraeli’s challenge by delivering Tory gains in almost every corner of the country.

The Conservatives are advancing in the Celtic fringe. They have been virtually irrelevant in Wales since the 1850s, derided as the party of coal- and steel-owners and English snobbery. Now the Welsh Political Barometer, an opinion poll, puts the Tories on 40% and on course to win 21 seats to Labour’s 15. In 2015 triumphant Scottish Nationalists boasted that Scotland had more pandas (two) than Tory MPs (one). Now polls show the Tories winning up to 12 seats as they hoover up votes from Scots who want to preserve the union, while Labour is left with none.

The Tories are almost certain to expand their gains among ethnic minorities. Loyalty to Labour is in long-term decline: in 1997-2014 the percentage of Indian voters identifying with Labour fell from 77% to 45%, while among Pakistanis it fell from 79% to 54%. In 2015 the Conservatives won more than 1m ethnic minority votes and outpolled Labour among Hindus and Sikhs. The Tories still have fewer minority MPs than Labour (17 compared with 23 in the 2015 intake) but the party is changing. Mrs May’s cabinet has two non-white members, Priti Patel and Sajid Javid, and the party’s rising stars include Kwasi Kwarteng and Rishi Sunak.

Mrs May is determined to extend the Tory advance to the “just about managing”. If David Cameron was obsessed with winning over middle-class Britons who were disillusioned with Tony Blair, Mrs May’s obsession is courting struggling Britons who have been taken for granted by Labour for decades and who may at last have been shaken free from their old loyalties by the twin shocks of Brexit and Corbynism. The Conservatives will campaign hard in Labour’s old industrial strongholds of the West Midlands and the north.

One of the central questions of Mayology—the science of trying to understand Britain’s enigmatic new prime minister—is whether she wants to take her party to the right or to the left. The answer is that she wants to do both. She is expanding rightward by pursuing a “hard Brexit” and promising to control immigration. She looks like someone who can deliver the smack of firm government and enjoy it. But she is also expanding leftward by promising to reignite industrial policy, discipline greedy bosses and keep spending at least 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid.

How are the Conservatives strengthening their position at a time when other established parties are crumbling? Luck plays a part. Labour is in the grip of a hard-left faction that combines repugnant politics with extreme incompetence. This week saw John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, appearing at a May Day rally framed by Syrian and Communist Party flags and Diane Abbot, the shadow home secretary, flubbing an interview about policing. The first-past-the-post system squeezes out other rivals.

The Conservative Party went through its own near-death experience during the 13 years of New Labour dominance. Even in its current parlous state the Labour Party leads the Tories among those under about 35. The biggest danger for the long-term health of the Conservatives is that they will become the party of “generational haves”, ignoring young people who cannot get onto the property ladder and are weighed down with student debt.

Mother Theresa

Yet the Tories have survived as one of Britain’s two big parties longer than any other. Even at their most feeble they were not as weak as the Corbynised Labour Party. They have a genius for burnishing their brand. They don’t go in for trashing their predecessors to the same extent that Mr Blair did to Old Labour and Mr Corbyn’s gang is now doing to Mr Blair. They also have a knack for muddling through: the Tories have been riven over Europe since the 1980s, yet seem to have survived the earthquake of the referendum. Above all they have a skill for adjusting to social change and external shocks. The party of the landed aristocracy succeeded in absorbing not just factory owners but enough factory workers to stay competitive in the age of mass production.

The biggest challenge to established parties at the moment is populism that is rooted in anger at remote elites and economic stagnation. The Conservative Party bears a good share of the responsibility for this. Yet it shows every sign of not only riding out this challenge but using it to extend and entrench its power.