Archie Norman Was a Successful, Energetic, Young Businessman. That's His Problem

By Anderson, Bruce | The Spectator, January 30, 1999 | Go to article overview

Archie Norman Was a Successful, Energetic, Young Businessman. That's His Problem


Anderson, Bruce, The Spectator


William Hague never has any luck. Last week, he delivered a thoughtful, wellcrafted speech. On a normal press day, it might have earned respectful attention. Unfortunately for Mr Hague, it was the day of Jonathan Aitken's court appearance. The speech received minimal coverage.

On Tuesday of this week, the Tories had a press conference on the constitution. On Tuesday, however, there were also a couple of earthquakes, the Colombian one and a small earthquake in Tory Central Office, with not many dead. On this occasion, Mr Hague might have been less unhappy about the distraction. Colombia not only eclipsed the constitution; it deprived newspapers of space to follow up the story that Mr Hague was planning a cull of his shadow Cabinet. The story that Norman Fowler, Michael Howard, John Redwood and Gillian Shephard are all for the chop had appeared in the Telegraph and the FT. Its authors, Robert Shrimsley and Andrew Parker, are conscientious journalists - not yet an oxymoron - who combine forces to lunch politicians.

Though the headline writers may have overstated the extent to which future events are already set in concrete, the two stories are accurate reflections of a mood which is widespread among junior frontbenchers and in Central Office. Not for the first time in political history, the young Turks would like to clear out the old gang. In some cases, one can see the point.

Almost everyone who knows Michael Howard would agree that he is a decent and honourable man, who is also extremely able and excellent company. But try explaining that to almost anyone who does not know Mr Howard. This is hideously unfair; when was politics anything else? Mr Redwood also has a problem.

Humanity's attempt to acquire a majority shareholding in this interesting enterprise are still being resisted. A science fiction work which appeared in the Fifties described how infiltrators from another galaxy were conspiring to take over the earth. They had arrived in the form of beautiful children, `the Midwich cuckoos'. That analogy will not entirely do for Mr Redwood; he is more of a Midwich corncrake. But there is an interstellar flavour.

In the run-up to the last election, the Tory party was unable to rebut the charge that it was full of hard-hearted ideological obsessives who were uninterested in ordinary people. The continued presence of Messrs Howard and Redwood in the party's high counsels does nothing to rectify that. But it has helped to correct another widespread impression which is equally damaging: that the party has gone to sleep. Mr Howard and Mr Redwood are two of the most active members of the shadow Cabinet. Both of them have deployed their considerable intellectual firepower to good effect, as a number of shell-ravaged Labour ministers could testify. Without Michael Howard's and John Redwood's recent efforts, the Tories would hardly have appeared on the radar screens.

It may be that Michael Howard will himself decide to stand down, but it will not be easy to replace him. As for John Redwood, Mr Hague ought to remember Lyndon Johnson's comment when it was suggested that he fire J. Edgar Hoover: `Better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.' Mr Redwood has by no means reconciled himself to not being the leader of the Conservative party; he also has strong links to the lumpen right. One does not have to be an extra-terrestrial to work out the following formula: Redwood + backbenches = trouble. …

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