Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tory Dilemmas 10 Years On

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tory Dilemmas 10 Years On

Article excerpt

TODAY marks 10 years since the Conservatives last won a General Election. On 9 April 1992, John Major defied the odds and the opinion polls and led his party to its fourth consecutive victory over Labour. Since then, his party's story has been one of almost unremitting failure. When Britain fell out of Europe's exchange rate mechanism in September 1992, the Tories lost their reputation for competence, and have yet to regain it. Seven months after becoming party leader, Mr Iain Duncan Smith has yet to be regarded as a credible candidate for Prime Minister by the millions of voters he needs to entice back into the Tory fold. Nevertheless, the last thing the Conservative leader should now do is panic. Patience is a more sensible response. Just as Labour took more than a decade after 1979 to exorcise voters' bitter memories of the failings of the Wilson and Callaghan years, so today's Conservatives may need to wait until the election after next before their party's image is no longer hopelessly weighed down by the disastrous record of sleaze and division during the Major years. Patience alone is not enough, however. A more active strategy is needed. In some ways, Mr Duncan Smith has identified the right approach: stop banging on about Europe, develop new thinking on improving the public services, and embrace an agenda of social tolerance and inclusivity. Even Mr Kenneth Clarke, his defeated rival in last year's leadership election, now showers praise on him. Yet, in order to win back the lost votes, Mr Duncan Smith needs to go further.

The occasional speech, however well-crafted, is not enough. When Mr Tony Blair modernised the Labour Party he spent six months, during the winter of 1994-5, campaigning hard for a new set of core objectives, culminating in a cathartic special conference when he won his party's approval for his plans.

Mr Duncan Smith needs to be equally active, determined and persistent in campaigning for a reformed Conservative Party. Only when he has convinced his activists of the need to change course, and the wider public that the party has learned the lessons from its past errors, can he expect voters to regard his party once again as a serious contender for power. …

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