Magazine article The Spectator

The Tory Party Has a Hole in Its Bucket but All Is Not Lost

Magazine article The Spectator

The Tory Party Has a Hole in Its Bucket but All Is Not Lost

Article excerpt

It is the best pantomime in London. Tim Collins's mother is a remarkable Widow Twankey, and as for Steve Norris: what a master of multiple entendre. The way he pauses and winks as he says the name 'Dick Whittington' has the grown-ups in so many stitches that they are hardly able to fend off the children's awkward questions: 'Daddy, what's so funny about Buttons and Puss-in-- Boots?'

But there is one place where they are not laughing: the Tory parliamentary party. Even after all these years, Tory MPs cannot believe their bad luck. The government's transport policy is disintegrating as is its Euro-diplomacy, and where is the Tory party's response" Mired in malarkey in the Essex suburbs. No wonder a lot of MPs are giving way to despair and rage-, nor is it surprising that confidence in Mr Hague's leadership is back in the depths. Over the past few days,. I have heard two members of the last government make the same Napoleonic allusion. 'I know William's able and he's good in the House, but, say what you like: he's an unlucky Marshal.'

While that is undoubtedly true, Mr Hague is not blameless; he is not wholly at the mercy of misfortune. He should forget Napoleon's Marshals and concentrate on two British Field Marshals who never lost a battle: Montgomery and Wellington. The Tory party's problems stem from a lack of grip; it never seems to know what is happening on the other side of the hill. Events just stroll up to it and punch it on the nose.

Take the notorious Clause 28, which forbids the promotion of homosexuality in schools. One could argue whether such a clause was ever necessary; consule Thatcher, there was a tendency - dangerous dogs, kerb-crawling, perhaps Clause 28 - to legislate first and think later. But now that the clause is enshrined in law, there is no reason to repeal it. After all, does anyone except Peter Tatchell believe that schools should be allowed to promote homosexuality? So it would have been perfectly possible for the Tory party to adopt a commonsense, popular position. Of course schools should be able to offer pastoral care to pupils who believe themselves to be homosexual, and of course bullying should be stamped out: all bullying. But there is nothing in the present legislation to prohibit counselling or to encourage bullying. Let it stand, while schools get on with what they should be promoting, such as literacy and numeracy.

Five minutes' thought should have been more than enough to work out such an obvious position, but as Professor Housman reminded us, five minutes is a long time and thinking is hard. It is ludicrous that no one in Mr Hague's office and no one in Central Office - both of which are more amply staffed than they were when Mrs Thatcher led the opposition - foresaw the difficulty.

Which brings us to Mr Norris. It was a bit of a facer that several of his former constituency chairmen felt strongly enough to write a letter denouncing him as unsuitable to be a mayoral candidate. But that was insufficient reason to disqualify him. For a start, what about audi alteram partem, a legal maxim which is applicable even in Epping Forest? Mr Norris was entitled to give his version of events. Indeed, the committee which was sitting in judgment was entitled to be cross with Mrs Collins and her colleagues; they should either have drawn attention to the impediment at a much earlier stage, or for ever held their peace.

Above all, however, the committee should have lifted its eyes from niceties and procedures to consider the political embarrassment that would be caused by blocking the Norris candidacy. …

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