October 20, 2005


Conservatives have finally decided to give the voters what they want (Ferdinand Mount, 21/10/2005, Daily Telegraph)

What is it that has propelled David Cameron from a merely promising third place to runaway favourite after yesterday's second ballot?

It is not much help to say it's all about modernising the party. After all, "modernisation" was Sir Alec Douglas-Home's slogan in 1964. Nor is it enough to point out that people now are more broadminded about sex and drugs, if not about jokes.

No, what is different about this startling result is that Cameron looks like being the first Tory leader to be chosen, primarily and deliberately, because his electors - both Tory MPs and party activists - think he is the man that the public at large would prefer. So far at least, they are putting popularity before ideological soundness.

Sounds obvious, especially after three thumping defeats. But look back over the past half-century. If popularity with the public had been the criterion, not a single one of the party's leaders would have made it. Instead, the Conservatives would have been led successively by Rab Butler, Reggie Maudling, Willie Whitelaw, Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke.

Some of these might-have-beens could have turned out better than the actual winner. One or two, like Whitelaw instead of Thatcher, would have been unimaginably worse. But all would have been the people's choice at the time.

Instead, the party looked inward again and again and chose the person they considered best able to tickle their own erogenous zones. Labour did the same, even more disastrously, when it chose Michael Foot over Denis Healey. In fact, Tony Blair was its first leader chosen deliberately (over the better qualified Gordon Brown) to appeal to the country at large.

Now, at last, democracy has trickled through to the Conservative Party. How odd to think that, 40 years ago, when I was present at another Tory leadership contest that spilled all over Blackpool, even their MPs didn't have a vote in choosing who was to succeed Macmillan.

It was my first party conference. It was also the first time I had been offered oysters, and, while I was mostly focused on trying to keep down the slithery little creatures, like everyone else I thought how bizarre the whole process was.

That danged electorate, such a nuisance....

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 20, 2005 10:36 PM
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