Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tory Turmoil Starts Early

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tory Turmoil Starts Early

Article excerpt

THERE has been a surge of newspaper stories in recent days about the Tory leadership, inspired by alleged manoeuvring around Mr Michael Portillo and Mr Kenneth Clarke. Most of the speculation is thinly based, because until the election is over and the margin of Conservative defeat is measured, nobody can judge whether Mr William Hague has a chance of keeping his job.

Even most frontbench Tories are now braced for a Labour majority of at least 100, perhaps 120 to 150. At some ill-defined point in that range, Mr Hague's position becomes untenable - or should. Then what? All his possible successors look implausible. Mr Hague's supporters have been doing what they can in the Tory Press over Easter to see they stay that way. Mr Portillo has never been forgiven by the Right for failing to stand against Mr John Major in 1995. His recent soft-shoe shuffle towards "caring Conservatism" has further alienated them. His enemies also keep muttering darkly about "more to come out" on his sexual history. Mr Clarke who, sensible Tories (and this newspaper) argued, was the only credible successor to Mr Major back in 1997, is now approaching 60. Amazingly, even some Right-wingers are now so desperate for a chance of power that they profess themselves willing to back Mr Clarke as the only Tory who can win back middle England. But the man himself and the zealots of the parliamentary party seem so remote from each other that it is hard to imagine them becoming reconciled. Weekend newspaper reports of "Tory plotting" are premature. What is happening so far amounts only to fevered gossiping among frightened MPs. Mr Hague could yet lose big and survive as leader, if he is foolish enough to want to, simply because the party cannot unite behind anyone else. We have been here before.

Mr Major survived in 1995 only because so many MPs preferred to stick with a doomed regime rather than embrace Mr Michael Heseltine. After the June election, the foes of Mr Portillo and Mr Clarke may prove bitter enough to keep both men out of the leadership. Mr Hague could yet be given the chance to lose again in 2005 because the Tories know what they hate (Clarke, Por-tillo, Europe) much more than what they need to regain power (common sense, decency, vaccination against Europhobia, a leader not called Hague). …

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