Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Turning on what I thought was the Today programme on Monday, I heard the voice of Kenneth Clarke, talking about Dizzy Giilespie. Another shameless plug by the BBC, I thought, for the man they are always trying to make Tory leader. Perhaps I was right, but the immediate cause was that there was no Today programme, due to a 24-hour strike, so Ken was, in effect, a scab. Although it is Michael Howard who has often been compared to a vampire, it is the older Mr Clarke who will not lie down and die. If he stands in the coming contest, it will be his third attempt. The possibly unintended effect of the proposed Conservative leadership rule changes will be to benefit Mr Clarke, by returning the main power of selection to MPs. They tend not to understand the depth of the cultural problem which their party still faces and so they favour what they irritatingly call 'big beasts', and Mr Clarke, of course, is the biggest. If a French 'No' vote on Sunday kills off our own referendum on the European constitution, many will argue (mistakenly) that the European issue is dead and so Mr Clarke will no longer divide his own party. My suspicion is that Mr Clarke is more well known by potential Conservative voters than he is liked. People nowadays do not like fat politicians; they don't like MPs taking money from tobacco companies; he displays a certain jovial discourtesy and indiscipline which MPs enjoy, but which many voters regard as part of an obsolete, 20th-century political arrogance. If Mr Clarke became leader, even under the existing rules, he would drive thousands of voters in key marginals into the arms of Ukip. If he were foisted on the membership by a coup in the party's constitution, he would provoke a full-blown crisis.

The party activist most involved in the changes is the party's deputy chairman, Raymond Monbiot, father of the environmentalist thinker and activist George. Strange that George is not concerned by the ecological threat to the Conservative party. He could draw up a very moving map, like those produced by the RSPB about the lesser spotted woodpecker, to show how ruthlessly the Tory habitat has been destroyed since 1992 - 14 million votes then, fewer than 9 million today, huge areas of blue disappearing. Thanks to political climate change, George should protest, hardly any Conservatives remain in the North of England or Scotland. But not a word. So much for Monbiot-diversity.

David Cameron is a possible candidate for the Tory leadership, but he has the disadvantage that he went to Eton. Strange, you might think, that being well educated is considered a bad thing - rather as if a jockey trained at Lambourn were ruled ineligible for the Derby- but Etonians ought, perhaps, to admit that the widespread suspicion of them is understandable. It is to do with their almost ineradicable belief, subliminally inculcated from the moment they arrive (often, indeed, from birth) that their school is the best in the world: it is polite to conceal this fact, but fact it is, they are taught. Many non-Etonians, naturally, do not believe that Eton is the best school in the world, but they are not the ones with the greatest resentment of Etonians, for they can simply laugh at them. The really angry ones are those who think that it is indeed the best, and therefore hate it, either because they wish they had been there, or because, for ideological reasons, they loathe the idea of good schools. …

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