Sunday, September 04, 2005


3rd time lucky for Ken Clarke?

This week, Kenneth Clarke, MP and ex-chancellor threw his hat into the ring for the UK Conservative leadership race. This will be his third attempt over the last eight years. Somehow I don’t think the Tories will elect him because he is, at least to many, a Euro-loving politician on the left of the party. To me, this will be their loss. Over the last decade the Tory party has ripped itself to shreds, gone through four leaders and badly lost three elections. Nevertheless, it still insists on pandering to its increasingly aging membership instead of reaching out to the country as a whole.

This mirrors the plight Labour found itself in during the Eighties and early Nineties. After losing to Thatcher in 1979, the Labour moved foolishly further to the left under Michael Foot and was crushed in 1983. It took another two defeats until the modernization of Labour was completed and somewhat vindicated in 1997 when Tony Blair won a landslide and became Prime Minister. To reach this point, he had to ditch socialism and rebrand the party as New Labour. Unfortunately somewhere along this path they seemed to have stolen the Tories clothes and lost the soul of the party.

After 18 years of Government, the Tories had grown increasingly arrogant, detached and worse under John Major’s leadership, incompetent and visionless. I believe the rot started with Major. Sure, Thatcher was losing her way with her insistence of implementing the grossly unfair and hated poll-tax, as well as creating a more divided UK between the have and have-nots. Despite signing various treaties over her decade in power, her hatred for all things European was verging on paranoia. Her time was up. Unfortunately the guilt-ridden Tories couldn’t elect the knife-wielding Michael Heseltine who did the most to oust the sitting PM in challenging her leadership.

Instead they went for a middle of the road, fairly untested, uncharismatic John Major. A man chiefly who shall be remembered for Black Wednesday when interest rates went to over 12%, secretly bonking Edwina Currie despite the ‘Back to Basics’ campaign and setting up the traffic cone hotline. Somehow he managed to scrape a narrow win in 1992, mainly because the country felt that having a ‘grey lettuce’ in power was preferable to Neil Kinnock. Plus, many kept saying that John Major was a ‘nice man’ as if nice has ever been a perquisite for political leadership. Since then, the Tory party has consistently voted in complete non-starters.

The bald-headed, ex-Tory youth William Hague got voted in because the party believed he could reach out to the young. As if going to Notting Hill carnival wearing a baseball cap and banging on about saving the pound was going to attract any voters. He managed to win 1 seat back for the Tories in 2001. Wow – only another 180 more seats to win back over time. Then they put Iain Duncan Smith into the cockpit of the now disaster prone party. He was another dullard who didn’t even make it to an election. He was soon ditched for the more experienced Michael Howard – the infamous architect of the poll-tax.

Whilst Howard was a more effective operator – his brand of Conservatism is exactly why so many people won’t vote Tory. First he inherited an open goal missed opportunity from IDS over the Iraq War and yet he still supported that foolishly dangerous, unnecessary and illegal war. Then at the time of the election last year – he mainly concentrated on immigration sealing the impression that the Tory Party is the ‘Nasty Party’. So now the Tories have another broad choice of complete non-starters, rabid right-wingers, incompetents and dullards. Liam Fox, Malcolm Rifkind, David Davis and David Cameron are announced or likely candidates. Boring.

At least Howard is sensible enough to try and change the rules and take away the power away from the party activists. What do they know about modern Britain? I’m sure they would elect Thatcher again if they could – or worse still – cut the country adrift into the Atlantic, paddle away from funny speaking, bureaucratic Europe and join the US with George Bush as their head honcho. The fact that Clarke has tried yet again for the leadership, I’m sure is a complete anathema to them. A plain-speaking Tory who was against the Iraq war, who supports closer co-operation with our European partners and likes drinking beer obviously needs to be thrown into Tower of London.

A party that advocates wealth creation, keeping tax to a reasonable minimum and personality responsibility can’t be all bad. However it seems to me, a significant amount of people who support the right can be greedy, narrow-minded, unsympathetic, homophobic and racist which is out of step with modern Britain. Yes – immigration is an issue which should be discussed but if this is conducted in such a one-sided and exaggerated way that does not also include the benefits this country has had from immigration and takes precedent over other issues such as education, transport, health and environment which was hardly mentioned at the last election – then the Tories don’t deserve to be back in power.

Yet, despite the glee many have of the pathetic weakness and out of touch mentality of the current state of the Tories, I believe any government, especially with Blair’s presidential style of spin-doctors, control-freakry, war-mongery and continual erosion of personal liberty, there needs to be a strong opposition. Over the last eight years – it has been Labour backbenches who have been the unofficial opposition. Unfortunately looking back at the last 15 years I cannot tell much difference from Major and Blair’s government except Blair has a better PR and televisual smile. Blair even nicked the Tories spending plans for his first 2 years to bury the ghosts that Labour couldn’t balance a budget.

In disgust of the two main parties I have long since transferred my vote to the Liberal Democrats. Now, whilst they have their flaws, they at least seem the most honest of the major parties. They are proud to be pro-European and socially liberal in their attitudes. Whilst I cannot see my vote ever going to the Tories or the alternative Tories (New Labour), I am interested in seeing that other parties do try and put their best people forward. Clarke is often derided as being divisive and that he would split the party from top to bottom but all indications is that he is popular to those who do not traditionally vote Tory.

Clarke has even cooled his love-affair with the Euro, admitting the UK would not join the european currency within 10 years. Unfortunately for them, it seems the Tories do not want to swallow their pride, elect a ‘leftie’ with Hush-puppies but are content to live in the past with their scrapbooks of Maggie’s victories cut out from yesteryear’s Daily Telegraph. But why vote for someone with experience and popularity when you have David Davis?

It seems we may very well elect him - his standing in the last poll I read had him leading over David Davis.

I would like to make a couple of comments regarding some of the points you make in your post:

Nevertheless, it still insists on pandering to its increasingly aging membership instead of reaching out to the country as a whole.

Actually, I believe the core message of conservatism reflects quite well what the average, not-especially-political person thinks. In England at least the Conservative Party polled (very slightly) better than Labour.

'Reaching out to the country as a whole' is not what conservatives should do. To achieve this you need to be all things to all people. That's simply unethical and, when they tried it last time, they failed to defeat the most distrusted PM we've ever had.

Conservatives should promote their philosophy, explain it, argue for it - and pick up the 45% of the vote that they need in order to win a land-slide.

...[Labour] have stolen the Tories clothes and lost the soul of the party.

Labour, in its opportunism, kept the best of the free-market (plus some of the worst bits - they employed the discredited Arthur Anderson who even Mrs thatcher wouldnt touch and they did not renationalise the railways which makes no sense to me at all) but they have not ditched their obsession with control from the centre, big government spending, the redistribution of income, an expanding welfare state and the creation of public sector jobs. They remain (an unusal kind of) socialist party.

A truly paranoid Mrs Thatcher would have removed us from the EU. It's difficult to forgive her for not doing so. And in what way was there more division beteen the haves and have-nots? And - here's a revolutionary thought: does it actually matter?

I think your comments on Howards' immigration stance as confirming our nastiness is misguided. I suspect we might have done a lot better if he had simply said, There'll be no more immigration at all under a Conservative government. Provided he allowed for family reunion and real, identified immigration for people with required skills he would have done a whole lot better. Most people are too genteel to say it but we don't want any more immigrants. Even people of immigrant families are fed up.

So now the Tories have another broad choice of complete non-starters, rabid right-wingers, incompetents and dullards. Liam Fox, Malcolm Rifkind, David Davis and David Cameron are announced or likely candidates. Boring.

Hang on a second... rabid? Biased though I am both Davis and Fox do at least have some philosophical underpinnings to their views. If you are a small 'c' conservative they're actually quite appealing. They have some ideas that we don't often hear of either - definitely not boring, even if one doesn't actually agree with them.

At least Howard is sensible enough to try and change the rules and take away the power away from the party activists. What do they know about modern Britain?

More than your average public school educated MP. I know a number of party activists - we come from all walks of life and, even if we don't typify the average Briton (although I think I personally might be closer to the mark) we are more in tune with the country than the average MP.

immigration is an issue which should be discussed but if this is conducted in such a one-sided and exaggerated way that does not also include the benefits this country has had from immigration

In what way one-sided? In what way exaggerated? The moment the subject is mentioned one is compared with the worst of racists. That's what makes the discussion one-sided because from that moment on we become forever defensive, forever trying to explain that we don't hate people we just feel there's an imbalance in some areas that's bad for national unity and cohesion.

And please give me three examples of benefits of immigration that have brought measurable and real advantage to the people of this country.

What I would emphasise to you is this: conservatives have a belief in their country and a respect for the mores and ways of its people. Change, when it comes, should be gradual and in keeping with the foundations on which it rests.

Sudden, legislated change is harmful - as Blair is proving with his back-of-a-fag-packet reforms and the steady disintegration of this country.

Conservatives are not seduced by intellectual wafflings about 'New' Britain or 'fairness' or 'equality' - two ideas impossible to define in the context of society and even more impossible to achieve in the terms understood by the liberal-left. We recognise that, on a level playing field, people will achieve wildly different outcomes. There's nothing wrong with this.

Finally, however we decide we wish to be governed, it should be we, the people, who govern through our elected - and potentially rejected - representatives. That I, a free-born Englishman, have to obey the laws of a European bureaucracy that is unaccountable to me and cannot be in any way removed by me is an insult at the very least. Allowing our country to be so-ruled is totally unacceptable to anybody who believes in the liberty of nations.

Anyway, I've finished ranting. Sorry if I've gone on a bit - I often do. Your posts are very readable - a vital part of having a good blog. And the images in your posts are very good - from where do you get them if I may ask?
Hi Gary

You right that a party cannot be all things to all people. When you choose to vote for a party, to be slightly cynical, you choose the least worst option as there will be things you do not agree with.

However I feel that over this last century politics in Britain have been very class based which have loosened somewhat but it still very much in evidence. Therefore any modern party should try to win over a decent majority if they claim they are leading the country. Thatcher did it with the working class (selling off council houses) and so has Blair (ditching Clause IV and saying Labour wouldn’t screw up the economy).

The core message of conservatism is confused as it can include 'one nation' toryism or the more Eurosceptic, 'little Englander' approach. Whilst I believe discussions on Europe and Immigration are worthy and important topics - the Tories have become obsessed with it to such an extent it has overshadowed other equally important topics.

This doesn't appeal, I believe, to the majority of Britons today. Therefore the Tories have to show that they do have a compassionate message. If you win government you are responsible for everyone. Besides - in England, the Tories might have polled better but they got far fewer seats and they still defend our ludicrous First Past the Post system.

Naturally there are people who will always vote Tory (or Labour, Lib-Dem etc) but to win a party has to either convince the electorate about their opinions, adapt their policies somewhat or a bit of both. The Tories have been defeated 3 times. First in a landslide, then another landslide (gaining 1 net seat) and now they have gained some seats but their percentage was stuck at 33%. Something needs to change surely - and not just the leader again.

When you mention that Labour 'control from the centre, big government spending, the redistribution of income, an expanding welfare state and the creation of public sector jobs' - wasn't that happening under Thatcher and Major? Government spending went up, taxes went up, the welfare state went up and so did public sector jobs under the Tories. However I wouldn’t have called Thatcher a socialist.

Whilst I heartily disagree with Socialism and Communism - I do think it is the duty of the State to try to ensure that poverty is
eradicated. This means giving good access to education and careers to those who are born to families which cannot it.

And I do think it matters. Have a look at countries where there is a big gulf between the rich and the poor - do we really want to go down this route? It's all very well criticising single mothers as the Tory Party did in ther early 90s - but what about the Fat Cats who have disasterous company results causing many redundacies but still get massive pay offs?

As for immigration - I'm all for tightening it up and ensuring we match those who come in with the skills we need. Also to ensure that asylum seekers are exactly that and not economic migrants. Yet also immigration has brought the countries many benefits. It was Enoch Powell, ironically I believe who helped to recruit nurses and transport workers from Jamaica to work in this country in the 1950s.

Imagine all the jobs that would be vacant if there was no immigration. Imagine if nobody in the last 200 years left this country. We are no longer an Empire but we have to expect that by colonising many parts of the world that some people from these nations would also settle here. It is not a one way system.

Britain was forged from such people as Celts, Romans, Saxons, Jutes, Angles, Vikings and Normans. And there have been waves of immigration from Huguenots, Jews, Africans, Caribbeans, Asians etc. They have brought their culture, cuisine etc. The Balti curry has become as British as Fish and Chips.

Also what would America be like if it didn't have immigration over the last 200 years? Many of it's famous stars, inventors, politicans etc were immigrants. This is the same with the UK. Michael Howard's father was an immigrant.

I agree that under a level playing field people will achieve different things. I'm fine with that as long as there is a decent safety net for those at the very bottom and opportunity for those who want to - move ahead. Unfortunately it is not a level playing field but some things can be done to make it more so.

I am no overly keen on the EU. There are many things which does annoy me about it but I would rather the UK was in it - and improved it rather than walk away. Because I think the benefits can and will outweigh the negatives. And yet it has been the Tory Party who has signed up the UK - to major European treaties and have never asked the British people their view.

Even Clarke is against referendums but as least with him you know that he does do the anti-EU rhetoric and then sign another treaty. This is hypocrisy.

As for bureaucracy and unaccounatbility - we already have this in the UK under our present system. About 22% of the electorate - voted for Labour yet they have 55% of the seats. A system which the Tory Party is more than happy with. Almost million people voted green and yet they have no MP.

Anyway thanks for the debate. The images are my own:)
Interestingly, the Conservatives appealed to the working class in the 80s while Labour appealed to the middle classes in the late 90s - an interesting inversion of received wisdom. Although in the final analysis the working class vote is big enough that it can decide any party's fortunes.

I must disagree with your contention that the Conservative Party is obsessed with Europe. The subject received almost no discussion over the election campaign. And 'obsessed' to one person is 'passionate' to another. Were we 'obsessed' with winning the second world war?

This thing about compassion is so weird. It's like a coat that people must wear if they're not to catch cold. And, like race, it is a codeword for a particular mind-set and you either share that mindset or you don't.

Do you think this is a compassionate society at the moment? Where more children than ever have no fathers? Where first world health technology seems not to have any affect on endemic disease and illness? Where alienation and exclusion are becoming more apparent with each passing year? Where hospitals are refusing treatment due to cost? Where my class - the working class - is being fobbed off with degraded education in the hope that it'll stop them smashing up bus-shelters at night? And welfare that keeps them clamped to nanny's teat when it all goes belly up?

There's no compassion here. Just political ideology and a desperate struggle with the statistics to make it look like it's working...

Compassion, in my book, means the government not financing the destruction of the family - and, hence, community - through welfare but, instead, spending whatever money is necessary on a world class - and I mean, world-class as in the very best available on the planet bar none - education system. We should be ruthless in our desire to provide the very best education - but mature enough to recognise that what the individual does with that education is their business, for better or for worse. It is not the government's (government = tax payer)responsibility to reduce so-called poverty.

Yes, you're absolutely correct - a number of today's ills can be attributed to previous Conservative administrations. The GCSE is Thatcher's, for example. But what of it? Thatcher wasn't a conservative and nor was Major after her. I am a paid up member of the Conservative Party but wholly aware of its short-comings. I'll criticise them with the best of you..!

Why does the gap between rich and poor matter so long as the so-called poor have sufficient food, clothing and shelter for their needs? Are you a millionaire? I'm not. What of it if you are? It makes not an ounce of difference to me how your and my wealth differs.

Balti curry is no argument for immigration. Immigration brings almost no benefits aside from those occasions when we import workers with required skills. How do we benefit from a family of Australians who come here to be instantly unemployed? Or a single Bangladesi man with none of the skills we are especially in need of?

Immigration is an essentially selfish act where the immigrant moves to another country for his benefit, not the other country's. My occasional thoughts about emmigrating - to either India or the US - is purely selfish, for family reasons. What does the other country get out of the deal? Nothing. So why should they permit the drain on their resources that a new arrival will cause?

This is an academic argument, not a racial one. I have great neighbours - Bangladeshi - and a wonderful wife - Indian (not even British). I love my Indian family and I have good friends who aren't white. Does this mean that my emotional attachments defeat the sensible arguments against immigration? No, of course they don't. Until somebody can demonstrate to me the undeniable and urgent needs that this country satisifies by importing people I remain convinced we shouldn't be doing it.


The images on your blog are excellent. I wouldn't even know how to begin creating them but they give your blog a unique look - an important aspect of successful blogging...
I agree that Europe was not an issue in the last election - instead it was almost only about Iraq and immigration. However Europe is a thorny issue which has plagued the Tory Party for at least 20 years and has reared it's ugly head again in the Tory leadership contest because of Clarke throwing his hat in the ring.

Europe is important as is sovereignty. The point I was making is that however passionate you feel towards Europe - it has split the Tory Party and although things have improved somewhat those wounds haven't fully healed. And Clarke is being damned so badly over Europe when he actually has a relatively good record in government and there are plenty of other Tories who have brought us closer to European political intergration yet they don't seem to come under the same criticism.

I am surprised you don't consider Thatcher and Major conservatives. What do you call them? Although I have criticisms and concerns over the EU - it is ironic that the great Tory PM - Churchill called for a United States of Europe.

I don't think we live in a particularly compassionate society but like anything there are some things we do well or better than we did decades ago and some things we are doing worse. If you read some papers (e.g Daily Mail) you get the impression that this country is a terrible place to be in and its getting worse. Generally I feel lucky to be in this country and living at this time. However there are things we can do better hence my interest in politics.

As for children who do not have fathers I presume you mean single parent families where the father wasn't there when the child was born or left some time after through a breakup or divorce. Whilst this is a sad development - I don't think politicians can or should enforce marriage. I don't think we can turn the clocks back to the fifties where many people, particularly women, stayed in unhappy marriages due to social pressure.

I would say marriage is probably, in my opinion, the best option to bring up a child. However this cannot be a 'one size fits all' for all people. Some women may get accidentally pregnant and may not agree with abortion. Some couples do not see the need to marry if they want to bring up a child. Some fathers (or mothers) may leave their spouse for a multitude of reasons. Whilst divorce or bringing a kid without father is not ideal - millions of kids cope and can and are happy. I don't see this as being a sign of a less compassionate society.

I would say world health technology has made tremendous strides over the last century in tackling endemic diseases and illness. Hence why we are living longer. It seems doctors and scientists are doing the best job they can. You cannot expect current medicine to cure all diseases and illnesses - it is ongoing process. And what does this have to do with compassion?

I'm not sure what you mean by alienation and exclusion? You will have to explain that one. I think most of us seem to be well adjusted and feel part of a society.

I would imagine there are some hospitals which are refusing treatment due to cost - but it would be good it you can give some examples. I would probably agree with you that is bad. However under Labour and Tories - they seem to prefer choice over raising standards for all hospitals and schools.

Personally I am interested in a welfare state where it gives people a helping hand up rather than creating poverty traps where people rely permanently on welfare.

What I meant by lack of compassion - is the criticisms of those on benefit yet seemingly not targeting those who are wealthy yet undesevingly so. Again why should Fat Cats getting bonuses when things go wrong? And why do the Tories generally seem to take out of date moral stances - why not let gay people get married?

I think it is the government duty to reduce poverty. The Tories were against a minimum wage - do we really want people to work in sweat shops in this country in the 21st century for less than £2 an hour? The government is there to set the rules, and let markets flourish without trampling on the hard won rights of everyone who does work or tries to raise kids.

I'm not a millionaire either but when the Tories are thinking (and the Liberals who are also looking into this) about a flat tax it makes we wonder why do we want a cleaner paying 20% of her earnings - compared to a millionaire. I do not want to squeeze the rich until their pips squeaked - but I think the tax burden should be staggered as it currently is. You won't win middle England with that idea.

You seem to imply that importing workers with required skills is a sideline but this is a big benefit of immigration. This is why I said that if we can - we should match our needs with their skills. Unless the person is a genuine asylum seeker then if their skills are not needed in this country and if they are not married to a British person then there is a case for rejecting their application.

Do you believe we don't have a need for immigration because of the skill shortage? Why is the NHS trying to recruit doctors and nurses if there isn't a shortage? And if you want the best eductaion then telling all those who are not British to go home will make schools suffer badly. This doesn't add up.

As for being selfish for emmigrating - why not? What's wrong with being selfish and looking for a better life? Norman Tebbit told people to get on their bike to look for jobs. Over the last 200 years that what people have done. Countries which close it's borders often stagnate - however it should not be a question of no immigration or total open door policy - but of controlled immigration where in on the whole benefits the host country.

If there was no movement of people then we would all be living in one spot still on this globe.
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