Going Straight

To date the Tory leadership hustings, erm I mean conference, has drawn few comments from the Labour end of blogosphere.

Tom Watson has got around to admitting that things are getting interesting – no surprise there, Tom’s the kind of MP who enjoys the cut and thrust of keen fought election campaign even if watching from the sidelines.

Paul Bergin has some interesting thoughts on, amongst other things, the manner in which genuine political greatness tends to transcend party divisions, citing Churchill and Wilberforce (both of whom were, strictly speaking, Tories)amongst his while bemoaning the apparent lack of any clear ideological or philsophical ‘meat’ in the sandwich Tory leadership contest.

Paul gets himself in my good books straight away by citing Orwell as a bona fide hero of the left and its certainly worth noting in relation to Churchill that were it not for the support of the Labour Party in 1940, Churchill would not have become Prime Minister – one can only speculate how different the world might look today had the Tories, many of whom did not support Churchill at the time, have had their way.

Meanwhile, over at Let’s Be Sensible, Tom Hamilton offers some interesting observations on the Tory leadership contenders while remaining both unimpressed and, perhaps, a little bemused as to what all the fuss is about.

I think the trick with thinking and writing about party conferences these days is to find an ‘angle’ or analogy to work with that fits nicely with the events and personalities you’ve been fitfully watching – and no, that;s not an open invitiation for a thousand and one references to Nuremburg in commentaries on Labour’s most recent effort.

Now, for me, looking over the Tory conference and its leadership parade – and having, no doubt, been influenced by news of the death of Ronnie Barker – I couldn’t help but notice some odd similarites between the various contenders and characters in the classic sit-com ‘Porridge’.

Take Malcolm Rifkind for example. If even anyone deserved the nickname of ‘Lukewarm’ it has to be him.

I think its obvious by now that Rifkind’s chance has gone, and was gone well before the start of the conference. I actually tipped him as a possible ‘dark horse’ in the race several months back while commenting on the early ‘betting’ over at Guido’s blog. However, that was only out of recognising that a short-term compromise candidate could emerge from the pack had the whole thing descended in open warfare, a prospect which disappeared with the rejection of the EU constitutional treaty by the French and the Dutch.

With Europe safely tucked away off the main agenda, Rifkind’s already slim chance has evaporated to nothing; the best he can hope for would be a ‘kingmaker’ role by drawing support from Tory MP’s to make his, and his supporters choice of who to get behind of relevance in the horse-trading which will go on in the next couple of weeks in the course whittling the contest down to the final two.

Even with that, assuming the right call and ends up declaring for the eventual winner, I doubt then I think the best he can realistically expect for the future is a semi-important position shadowing one of the second-tier ministries (Education, Health DTI) – personally, I think he has more of the the look of ‘Shadow Leader of the House’ fodder about him – if he gets that at all. My bet is that having inherited one of the safest seats in the country (Kensington & Chelsea) from Michael Portillo, Rifkind may end of being persuaded to take his career forward in the Lords at the next election, freeing up a nice safe seat for a new ‘rising star’ being fast tracked up through the ranks, whoever that might turn out to be.

Liam Fox (‘Horrible’ Ives) is the one I find nigh on impossible to take seriously – just the name alone (Dr. Fox) and the image that conjures up of his aging DJ namesake is off-putting enough (I suppose it could be worse, though – ‘Peter Stringfellow’). More than that, however, there is just something instantly dislikable about the man who manages to come across as both bland and slimy at the same time; almost as if he was the result of some bizarre cloning experiment involving the combined DNA of John Redwood and David Mellor. I think Tom’s piece has it right, Fox has ‘loser’ written all over him which would make him an absolute gift to the Labour Party were he to become Tory leader.

Future career prospects? Can’t realistically see him holding on to the Foreign Office under a new Tory leader, especially if either Clarke or Cameron get the job – even against Jack Straw he punches well below his weight. Best guess would be a middle ranking position for a while followed by a leaving parliament to ‘spend more time with his family’ and ‘to pursue other interests’ at the next election.

‘Basher’ Davies is obviously the Mr Mackay of the cast, even if his conference speech was rather more Windsor Davies than anything else.

Part of his problem seems to be that his route to the top of the Tory ranks has come via what was a fairly anonymous route, the Whip’s office, etc which meant that its never become entirely clear what, if anything, he actually stands for… at least not until this week in which it turns out that what he stands for is mainly the same old stuff that’s lost the Tories the last three elections but with delivered with slightly better posture if his references to walking tall are anything to go by.

Davies big problem is that he just doesn’t ‘feel’ like a Tory leader; I genuinely cannot picture him in that role and certainly not as a Prime Minister. Home Secretary? Absolutely, he has just the kind of hard-nosed hang’em and flog’em credentials which invariably go down well with the blue rinse brigade in Tory heartlands but if he’s anything then then he’s Mr Mackay to Rifkind’s Mr Barrowclough, an able lieutenant but not a general.

He still, on most books, the favorite and will probably go into the members vote having won the Parliamentary ballot unless Rifkind openly bails out before the vote and switches behind either Clarke or Cameron. Whether he has enough to carry the members is another matter – on the one hand the members did vote for IDS… and on the other they did vote for IDS and look where that got them?

‘Basher’, unless he bombs badly to Fox in the MP’s vote, should be pretty unassailable in his present position for some time if he fails to become leader. If he loses it will be to either Clarke or Cameron, both of whom will be looking to move towards the political centre and who will, therefore, need a prominent right-winger to take the rest of the right with them. Davies not only fits the bill in that respect but also already occupies the natural ‘home’ for a right-winger in a centrist Tory opposition [Home Office] where even in the most moderate Tory regimes a good old hanger and flogger has always gone down well with the party faithful.

What we saw of Ken Clarke the snout baron and, of course, Harry Grout, was only really what was expected of him – a bit of old school political knockabout to put over to the party faithful the idea that he’s the last of the big fish left in the Tory pond. In reality we learned nothing from his speech we didn’t already know – Clarke still has what it takes to throw his considerable weight around to pretty good political effect and remains a formidable adversary for any Minister who ends up facing him over the dispatch box.

If he makes it through the MP’s ballot then he certainly has a chance, more so if Cameron does well and keeps doing well, for all that supporters of ‘Basher’ Davies have put a fair bit of time into putting to the sword his public reputation – Blimpish has a right old go here. However, the fact remains that irrespective of whether that reputation is well deserved or not, Clarke is the one survivor of the Major era to get out with any sort of reputation to speak of, no mean feat in a government which collapsed under its own inadequacies long before the end and that’s something that has to be respected for as a political opponent.

I suppose the question being asked by Tories about Clarke is ‘is he really a winner?’ when maybe a better question should be ‘how close can he realistically get?’. Clarke, on age alone, is obviously no long term solution for the Tories; at best if he did win them the next election he’s only good for a single term of office. That’s something which could go either way for him; if he makes the final ballot over Cameron he’ll alomst certainly win support amongst the modernisers if only as a caretaker leader to give Cameron to gain a bit more experience and expectations would, therefore, be relatively moderate – a cut in Labour’s majority to around 20-30 at the next election and solid staging ground for a big push under Cameron would be seen as a decent result. Not the win they’re looking for, true, but a narrow defeat in the away leg and with an away goal in the bank the return ficture,

It could, however, turn out to be a problem with the wider electorate, depending very much on how Blair’s dog days as PM come to be regarded – if Blair comes to be seen as a bit of a lame duck in his final term having lost authority due to his having announced it will be his last then voters may be rather more wary of voting in the Tories, knowing that like Blair, Clarke’s days would be numbered from the outset – While I wouldn’t say that Clarke was the best option for Labour, I would say that its by no means certain that he’s going to be quite thr asset he’d like the Tory faithful to think he is.

And that leads us inevitably on to David Cameron, the Lenny Godber of the leadership contest and the man who most needs to heed Fletch’s sagelike advice:

“1. Do your time

2. Keep you nose clean, and

3. Don’t let the bastard’s grind you down.”

The obvious question mark against Cameron for the Tories is his relative lack of experience – could it all be too soon and could he turn out to be just another Hague? Actually I doubt it as I think they’re now getting just desperate enough to realise that there’s no point saddling a new leader with old, discredited policies they way they did with Hague.

I really don’t think that matters, in fact having watched his speech at the conference I have to say that he, above all the others, is the one I want most to wind up as Tory leader – in fact from the point of view of the Labour rank and file he’s an absolute bloody godsend. A gift to the party.

You see in all the lionizing of the guy since his speech numerous commentators have noted just how like Blair the whole thing was, right down to complete absence of substantive policy content – never mind the policy feel the buzzwords; ‘change’, ‘modernise’ and all the rest – everything, in fact, we on our side of the political divide have had to put up with for the last 8 years.

And that’s it.

Cameron is Blair Mk II. ‘Cloney’ Blair. The Tories very own ‘Phoney’ Blair – can you possible imagine just how badly the grass roots of the party are now wanting to have a crack the guy.

He’s everything we’ve come to know and loathe in our own party leader…

…and best of all he really is a bloody Tory this time around so it’ll be no holds barred.

Could anything possibly be better for the Labour rank and file than Cameron for Leader – I think not!

  • I am hoping and praying that Clarke will stumble. The thought of a fully fledged Euro Quisling at the head of the Tory party is too much for me to bear.

    He thinks that the EU is a dead issue. Shame that Brussels doesn’t believe the same.

  • Can you drop me a quick line? I want to ask permission to add one of your pieces to an anthology I