Magazine article The Spectator

If the Tories Make the Wrong Move Now, They Will End Up as an Arid Little Debating Society

Magazine article The Spectator

If the Tories Make the Wrong Move Now, They Will End Up as an Arid Little Debating Society

Article excerpt

It is an enormously long time since the Tory leadership went into abeyance, with the resignation of William Hague in the early morning of 8 June. Not a ball had been bowled in the Ashes Series, which went on to develop so disastrously for the English cricket team. The last rites of the 2000-2001 football season were still being played out. The foot-and-mouth epidemic was, so government ministers asserted, over. The stock market stood several hundred points higher.

Previous leadership battles have, by contrast with this one, been short and sharp affairs. Barely five days passed between the resignation of Margaret Thatcher and the installation of John Major in No. 10 on 27 November 1990. Seven weeks elapsed between the resignation of John Major on 2 May 1997 and the victory of William Hague on 19 June. This time, however, the Tory party will have been effectively leaderless for more than three months by the time that the 1922 Committee chairman Sir Michael Spicer reveals the decision of the membership at 5.30 p.m. on Wednesday 12 September.

This long interregnum has had a deleterious effect on party discipline. Shorn of a strong central power, anarchy has prevailed. The lines of W.B. Yeats come to mind: `The best lack all conviction while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.' A development in last Tuesday's Financial Times was full of menace for the Tories. A front-page story brought news of some fresh government measure. The FT noted that `opposition parties' had responded with dismay. This innocent little phrase reflects a change in Fleet Street practice. Till now, whatever else political reporters may have thought about the Conservative party, they have accepted that it forms Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and comes top of the pecking order. Now the Conservatives are just lumped in with the Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, Plaid Cymru, etc. And serve them right.

That is one grievous effect of the Tory leadership vacuum. Another is the fact that any loudmouth who fancies getting a few newspaper headlines by sounding off can do so at will, in the sure knowledge that there will be no comebacks. Most prominent in this respect is Steve Norris, at present loosely attached to the Clarke camp. Norris, who served as junior transport minister under John Major, and is now a party vice-chairman has already hinted that he will leave the Tory party in the event of Duncan Smith winning. He has made remarks to the effect that some of those associated with the Duncan Smith campaign are racist, bigoted and extreme. It is difficult to tell whose interests if any Norris is presently serving - besides, that is, his own. At any rate, no one who cares for the long-term health of the Conservative party could have behaved in the way he has done for the last few months. There is backstairs talk in Downing Street that Tony Blair would be more than happy to offer Norris - and others like him - a peerage in the event that he no longer finds the Tories to his taste.

The period of lawlessness and banditry over the last few months has helped a number of misapprehensions to flourish. The most fundamental of these concerns the nature of the contest itself. Many hold the view that the battle between the pro-European Kenneth Clarke and the Eurosceptical lain Duncan Smith is the cathartic ideological contest which the party has been crying out for since it began to argue over Europe in the 1980s. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.