Friday, August 26, 2005


Conservative leadership

As a Labour voter all my life it's a form of schadenfrude to take an interest in the Conservative leadership elections which happen so regularly. As a person of the left I should exult in their disarray but in practice I think they should have the best possible leader as this will check Blair's excesses and provide the country with a real alternative. So who is the best candidate?

The person most likely to win is not Davis, and not Cameron in my view. The best person is still, by a mile, Kenneth Clarke. He has the confidence and the ability to knock bits of Blair in debate and the experience to manage his party back to electoral ground again after nearly a decade in the wilderness. He is a effortless performer on the media and impressive in any debate. He is also liberal, centrist and an obvious human being who likes birdwatching, jazz, and, a crucial one for me, cricket. But there are problems.
Firstly he is 65; a bit too old these days for a crediblke leader. Remember how the Tory press got to Michael Foot in 1983? He was then 70 and did look older I suppose but it did offer up a flank of attack and Clarke would be vulnerable.
Secondly Clarke is overwieght. This sounds a fattist comment but it matters. In the television age appearance is so important. Robin Cook's appearance was a career limiting factor and it was another factor counting against Foot too.
Thirdly Clarke has a record of being too Europhile for his party activists. Recently has has distanced himself from the euro and the draft constitution but he is still seen as too sympathetic to a body which some Tories see as a malign dictatorship. Finally, he is suspected of being too leftwing, too proto New- Labour perhaps by his party members. Polls show that he is perceived as closer to the centre ground than Howard and the body of his fellow MPs and he is the person who is most liked by the general voter out of the candidates on offer. So he is liked by the voter but not by his party members. A nice dilemma and one which ultimately might do for him.

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