Focus: Who Are You Calling an Opportunist ? ; `Tony Blair Supported Michael Foot to Join the Labour Party, Joined CND to Progress in the Labour Party, Did over His Best Friend to Lead the Labour Party. Tony Blair Is Opportunism Personified'. Francis Elliott Finds the Tory Leader on Fighting Form on the Election Battle Bus
Elliott, Francis, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
The delivery may be measured but the anger is real. "This is the most opportunist party there has been in modern British politics." Michael Howard pauses, more to check his rising ire than to formulate the next sentence. "Tony Blair supported Michael Foot to join the Labour Party, joined CND to progress in the Labour Party, did over his best friend to lead the Labour Party. Tony Blair is opportunism personified."
Quite an outburst for a man not known to lose his cool easily - but then it has been a difficult morning.
We are cocooned inside Mr Howard's battle bus on the road between Gloucester and Worcester as the campaign trail steers a course through the West Country towards Thursday's local and European elections.
The day's papers are dominated by two stories - the surprise surge in support for the United Kingdom Independence Party and the rising price of oil.
That morning the Tory leader has used the second to counter the first when he aligned himself firmly with those threatening another wave of fuel protests, saying he would support them if they were "lawful and peaceful".
Two hours after that radio interview the intervention looks like backfiring as it becomes clear that it has excited newsrooms back in London sensing a possible gaffe. Speaking to the Independent on Sunday, Mr Howard seems keen to tone down his support for fuel protesters saying, for instance, that he can't envisage supporting a new blockade of oil refineries.
"I doubt that [a blockade] would be [lawful]. I don't support anything that isn't lawful or peaceful. It would be much the best thing if the Government says soon that it's not going to institute the September [tax] rise."
Raise the possibility that his intervention might be seen as a shade, well opportunist, and it lights the blue touch paper.
Once he has shredded Mr Blair, the Tory leader adds: "If I don't talk about things like that, I am not doing my job properly."
Forced on the defensive by the surprise surge in support for UKIP, Mr Howard denies that he is feeling the heat. "I don't feel any pressure at all. The elections are a test I accept that. But UKIP, is it a test? I don't think I do [accept that].
The Tory leader dismisses as "complete nonsense from beginning to end" the claim that he is reaping a eurosceptic whirlwind he stirred up. He says that his party is no different from Labour in having within its ranks people with widely differing views on the European Union.
The Tory leader last spoke to Ken Clarke "about three weeks ago," he says. He admits, however, that the "advisory council" of Mr Clarke, Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague and John Major, set up as part of an effort to draw a line under the divisions of the past, has met just once.
"We've had one dinner and we have been trying very hard to arrange another one. Because John Major and Ken Clarke are out of the country a lot it has been very hard to fix it, but we are trying to fix it up," he said.
To be fair, Mr Howard hardly has time on his hands himself at the moment, criss-crossing the country by bus and helicopter. On the stump, he is an impressive campaigner. On his walkabouts he is energetic and charming. His silk-lined suit jacket stays on the bus and he takes to the streets in shirtsleeves, bouncing from one side of a shopping mall to the other relentlessly pumping hands.
The ponderous Duncan Smith and wispy Hague did not do this so well despite far more supporting flummery.
He says he enjoys it and the …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Focus: Who Are You Calling an Opportunist ? ; `Tony Blair Supported Michael Foot to Join the Labour Party, Joined CND to Progress in the Labour Party, Did over His Best Friend to Lead the Labour Party. Tony Blair Is Opportunism Personified'. Francis Elliott Finds the Tory Leader on Fighting Form on the Election Battle Bus. Contributors: Elliott, Francis - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: June 6, 2004. Page number: 18. © 2009 The Independent on Sunday. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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