Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Choose Ken or Choose Oblivion

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Choose Ken or Choose Oblivion

Article excerpt


LAST week Michael Ancram, and this week Lady Thatcher, w a r ned readers of T he Daily Tele g-ra p h tha t the elec tion of K en Clarke as leader would tear the Tory party apart. T his dir e pr ediction was paraded as a conclusive reason to vote f o r Iain Duncan Smith.

T he argument deserves car eful analysis . No one disputes that Ken enjoys a significant lead in e very test of National opinion carried out by inde pendent observers. He enjoys more support than anyone else among Conservative Members of Parliament.

Almost certainly, if Tory MPs had carried out a third ballot after Michael Por tillo dr opped out, Ken would have won it by a simple majority.

No one knows how to mea-sur e the views of subscribing and eligible members of the voluntary party out in the country. But, w e are told, if they too should choose Ken belie ving, presumably, tha t he is the man most likely to revive Conservative fortunes among the electorate as a w hole - then that result would tear the party apart.

There is a curiosity here.

This cataclysmic consequence would arise (so Ken's opponents tell us) simply because the party's subscribing members had followed public opinion, Conservative opinion, and Tory Members of Parliament. So who would do the tearing apar t? Self-e vi -dently, not the majority which had voted for Ken.

Exactly the opposite.

MICHAEL Ancram m ay be right.

T hose of us w ho served under John Major watched the convulsive process at work. And we er e not the only observers attending events. The elec -torate also watched and judged. Voters saw a go ver n -ment that appeared divided, humiliated in the division lobbies and undermined day after day on tele vision, chief ly by rebellions on the part of its o w n MPs - Tory collea gues elevated under John's leadership with the larg est popular vote the par ty has ever achieved.

By 1997 that public suppor t was gone, and surviving Conservative MPs show ed precious little understanding of o w to get it back. After John Major resigned, Ken Clarke was clearly the popular choice to lead the par ty. He was also the man that Conservatives outside Parliament wanted. But no. In a leak r ehearsal f or the present election, a f or midable alliance of pr ess barons, Rightwing pressure groups and Eurosceptic politicians banded together to stop Clarke.

W illiam Hague argued, after he g ained the leadership, that to attac k To n y

Blair' s occupation of the tra -ditional Tory position in the centre ground of one-nation Conservatism we needed clear b lue water between the p a r ties . T he lea p to the Right was under way.

The prag matic Eur opean polic y that had been central to the perf or mance of every Conservative prime minister from Macmillan through Thatcher to Major was abandoned. …

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