October 18, 2005


Why buy a gramophone player when you're being offered an iPod? (Matthew d'Ancona, 19/10/2005, Daily Telegraph)

As the most assiduous of the candidates, Dr Fox will now spend every minute of every hour until the second round closes tomorrow, insisting that the Davis brand is fatally contaminated, and that only he can stop Mr Cameron when the last two candidates go forward to a ballot of the party's 300,000 members.

In response, the shadow home secretary will argue that only he can deliver unity in the party and electoral gains in the cities, the suburbs and the North. He will also dispatch his close ally Damian Green - once a leading Clarke-ite - to woo supporters of the former chancellor, such as Andrew Tyrie, Robert Walter, Sir George Young and Quentin Davies. The argument will be that Mr Davis is now the best choice for Europhiles - yes, you read that correctly - on the ground that, unlike Dr Fox and Mr Cameron, he would not force Conservative MEPs to leave the European People's Party grouping in the European Parliament. Only in a contest as surreal as a Tory leadership race could Mr Davis be presented as the best hope of the Europhiles.

As Mr Davis clings on, Dr Fox gleefully kicking his fingers from the cliff's edge, Westminster observes the end of an era. The departure of Mr Clarke from the race draws to a close not only the leadership ambitions of an individual, but also the dreams of a group of mighty Tories - Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten - whose campaign stretches back almost 20 years.

The Westland crisis of 1986 was their defining moment: the trigger for Heseltine's long quest for the Tory crown, his struggle to transform his party's attitude to the European Union and his crusade for a return to cabinet government. In 1997, Heseltine passed the baton to Clarke, whose bizarre axis with John Redwood failed to win him the leadership. Four years later, it was Europe once more that did for Mr Clarke, as Tory members voted overwhelmingly for the Euro-sceptic Iain Duncan Smith. [...]

For Mr Clarke, the problem in the end proved quite straightforward. His act had been stolen from under his nose. Mr Cameron is no "bloke", but, to an extent that was unsuspected until his performance at Blackpool, he is blessed with the capacity to reach beyond his tribe and the political class. As Iain Macleod once remarked of Rab Butler, the shadow education secretary has the unfathomable knack "of attracting to himself wide understanding support from many people outside the Tory party".

In his manifesto, Mr Clarke said that "I have an appeal that goes beyond the politically active part of our communities". True enough: but Mr Cameron seems to have even more of it. In the past weeks, Mr Clarke has reminded me of Norma Desmond, bemoaning the end of the silent movie era, denying that he was trying to stage something so vulgar as a comeback. "I hate that word," says Norma in Sunset Boulevard. "It's a return, a return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen."

Unfortunately for Mr Clarke, he was ready for his close-up - but the camera had already turned on Cameron.

Yesterday, the former chancellor, one of the most experienced politicians of the postwar era, was faced with the cruellest fate in politics: obsolescence. The Tories and the media have enjoyed every minute of his campaign, but, in the end, they saw him as the Heritage Candidate. He triggered nostalgia, respect and fondness, but he did not respond to the party's longing for a pathway to power. He lacked the shock of the new. It was not so much that he was old, but that something better had come along. Why buy a gramophone player when you are being offered an iPod?

Mr Cameron has grasped more clearly than any of his rivals that his party is choosing a quasi-presidential candidate as much as a party leader.

Unfortunately, the Tories still seem to have a warped fascination with the 8-track tape deck: the EU.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2005 10:26 PM

"Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten"

Good riddance one and all.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at October 18, 2005 11:43 PM

More like a quadrophonic system. Quad systems were bought by potheads looking for enlightment from the latest Pink Floyd album. At least 8-tracks had the excuse that you couldn't play LPs in your car, and no one in their right mind had home players.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 18, 2005 11:50 PM