06 December, 2005

Stupid party

So the Tories have elected a new leader, and he's already being hailed as the next big thing, the great hope, a Prime Minister in waiting.

I doubt he'll prove to be anything of the sort, chiefly because David Cameron is trying to make out like he's the next Tony Blair, and it's probably safe to assume the last thing the British public want is another one of him. If Cameron's age, attitude and language come over as being fresh and unusual, that's only because they're all qualities we're not used to seeing associated with a Conservative. If the man was a member of the Labour party, there'd be nothing out of the ordinary for someone so young to presume so much having experienced so little.

Cameron is the fifth person to lead what John Stuart Mill famous dubbed the "stupid party" in the last eight years. That is an appalling tally by any standards, one that is unequalled in political history and one that would've been unthinkable even just a decade ago when John Major was five years into being Prime Minister, having followed on from Margaret Thatcher who'd been leader of the Tories for a decade and a half. Conversely Tony Blair has now led Labour for 11 years. It feels much longer, however, because of the degree of permanence Blair's always been careful to contrive, and how the people around him never seem to change.

Consider the top people in the present Labour government: Blair, Gordon Brown, Jack Straw, John Prescott, Margaret Beckett, and until a couple of months ago David Blunkett. Now consider the top people in the very first Labour cabinet in 1997: exactly the same list.

Conversely, take the big hitters in the last Tory Government on the point of its demise in 1997 - Major, Ken Clarke, Malcolm Rifkind, Michael Heseltine, Michael Howard: all still well known, all pretty much still involved in politics. Except none of them are running the Tory Party anymore. Rewind back eight years previous to 1997, and you come up with a epic list of the disappeared: Thatcher, Nigel Lawson, Douglas Hurd, Nicholas Ridley, Peter Lilley, Norman Fowler, John Selwyn Gummer... All gone. Did they really once run the country? Thankfully they've all long passed from the scene, if not from memory - yet it wasn't as long ago as you'd think.

Here's the crux of it all. Latterly the Tories seem to have an incurable inability to not only get their house in order but also to keep it in any order for any period of time. Faces come and go with astonishing rapidity, never permitted long enough to become known, never staying long enough to make a mark. David Cameron only became an MP four years ago. By the time he took over the Labour Party, Blair had been a shadow minister for seven years. It's all in the maths.

Unfortunately the implication of all this is double-edged: while Cameron is going to fail, Blair's just going to go on and on and on. And on this point, an article in yesterday's Guardian by Max Hastings sums up perfectly how Blair has frippered away his time in office to the extent that no matter how many more years he drags out his premiership, he'll still be remembered for only one thing: the Iraq war.

To paraphrase, if Blair ever saw a member of his Government actually changing something, he'd abolish it. And them.


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