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Tory Party Victory For 'Something Of The Right'
TWO MONTHS ago the Conservative Christian Fellowship posted prayers for their party on their website. One said "Pray that Iain Duncan Smith will have sufficient time to think and rest. Pray that Sundays will be kept as free as possible for family time." God certainly moves in mysterious ways! IDS will have lots more time after being dumped as leader by Tory MPs last week, triggering the fourth leadership contest in eight years.
The Tories have not been able to take advantage of New Labour's growing unpopularity. Flat-lining at around 30% in the polls, pushed into third place in the Brent East by-election, with the Lib-Dems threatening to replace them as the main opposition, Tory MPs voted for self-preservation.
But as IDS warned the 1922 backbenchers' committee: "Anyone who wants this job wants their head examining"!
Cue entry of Dracula (aka Michael Howard according to the Daily Mirror). That none of the other 'heavyweight' contenders are standing is less to do with unity and more about not wanting to be the leader who loses the next election!
The Tories' problems go far beyond The Quiet Man's charisma-bypass. 18 years of Thatcherism and Tory rule have left an enduring hatred amongst large sections of the working and middle classes. The widespread disillusionment with New Labour is precisely due to them carrying out Tory policies.
Labour's shift rightwards has left the Tories with no policies to call their own.
The natural inclination, particularly of their narrowing and ageing middle-class shire membership, is to move further to the right and put 'clear blue water' between them and Labour. But Tory MPs fear this would be electoral suicide, hence their espousal of 'Caring Conservatism'.
Howard says he'll lead from the centre. So did Major, Hague and IDS. He wants the Conservative Party to be "broad in appeal and generous in outlook"! Such 'caring' sits uneasily with his past record and reputation. And remember, George W Bush is a Caring Conservative!
HOWARD BECAME one of the most hated figures in the Tory governments of 1987-97, enthusiastically supporting the poll tax, water privatisation, anti-union laws and pit closures. But it was as a "hang 'em and flog 'em" Home Secretary that he achieved his real notoriety.
Ann Widdecombe, hardly a paragon of enlightenment, famously described him as having "something of the night" about him.
Pundits praise his combative parliamentary performances but far more opinion forming nowadays is the TV, where he appears remote and wooden. On Newsnight he once refused to answer Jeremy Paxman's question 14 times!
According to a YouGov poll, Howard's 'coronation' makes little or no difference to most people's voting intentions. The Lib-Dems plan to 'decapitate' him. Howard only has a 5,907 majority in his Folkestone and Hythe constituency and the Lib-Dems won control of the local Shepway council from the Tories in May.
Targeting 50 Tory seats, the Lib-Dems hope to overtake the Tories as the main opposition party. This could happen if the Tories descend into another round of in-fighting, especially over the issue of Europe.
At the same time, the YouGov poll shows 65% do not trust the Labour government and 61% disapprove of their record. Unlikely as it seems, it cannot be ruled out that the Tories could make a recovery. More Blair lies, economic stagnation forcing Brown to raise taxes and/or cut spending, industrial disruption and the Tory press returning to type would further undermine Labour.
Whilst economically unviable, the Tories have adopted populist policies on scrapping student fees, restoring the pensions-earnings link, vouchers for private health care and school passports. Together with the promise of tax cuts, Howard could rally lost Tory support.
This makes more urgent the building of a new workers' party to offer a socialist alternative to the failed policies of the main capitalist parties and rule out forever the nightmare of another Tory government.
A political turkey
IN THE week that saw the reappearance in Britain of the Great Bustard, a large turkey-like bird, Michael Howard resurfaced to become leader of the Conservative Party.
Howard is the sitting MP in Folkestone and Hythe. He spoke at a meeting of school students in Southlands school in Folkestone during the 1997 general election and came third behind myself, the Socialist Party candidate. Young people in Folkestone recognised a political turkey when they saw one!
In The Socialist 8 November 2003: