Risks Worth Taking


No one seems to have said it, but the six runners for the Conservative leadership make up a comparatively good field. Of each of the six it is said, `He would be a risk.' But the only leader since the war who was not generally thought to be a risk, and who glided smoothly into the leadership without even a single opponent, was Anthony Eden. After less than two years, and Suez, mercifully he was gone.

Mrs Thatcher was a risk in 1975. As Stephen Glover's column on page 34 shows, some of the great newspaper figures who later allowed it to be assumed that they had always been for her were not in 1975. She won them over once she was successful.

The present field is more impressive than 1975's. None of the present six would be an embarrassment either to himself or the country as, say, chancellor; a job in which, unlike prime minister or leader of the opposition, a politician cannot get away with just the broad brush. That was not true of all the 1975 candidates. Some of their brushes were broad indeed.

It is also worth remembering that in 1975 the leadership election campaign organised by Airey Neave, which elected Mrs Thatcher, was originally intended for Sir Edward du Cann. Perhaps he was done an injustice when the phrase `not quite 16 annas to the rupee' was coined with him in mind, but coined for him it was. Politics is unjust. He would have been a worrying leader of the Conservative party, though not worrying to its opponents. Wisely, he did not enter the field, and Mrs Thatcher was the beneficiary of the Neave machine. Compared to Sir Edward, none of the present six is at all risky. Lesser risk, however, is attached to each of them.

Three seem generally thought capable of winning the leadership: Mr Clarke, Mr Hague and Mr Lilley. Mr Clarke is a risk because it is thought that his Europeanism would permanently split the party. Less justly, he is also thought by some to be 'a Bourbon who has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing about the early Eighties' Wet economics.

Mr Hague is a risk because he is very young (36), is widely unknown, looks like a bald cherub and is a bachelor who, like most bachelors, is the victim of rumour. Time, and an opposition leader's access to television, would take care of the first two objections. He would be unwise to do anything at this stage about his baldness, since voters would notice that he had done so. The rigours of life, and the job, would probably make him look less cherubic. And he is engaged to be married. …

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