Leading Article: Mr Hague's party will remain in the shadows

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The Independent Culture
ONE OF the most damaging phrases in the political lexicon is the barb "yesterday's men". With Sir Norman Fowler, a veteran of Mrs Thatcher's shadow cabinet, vintage 1975, in Mr Hague's team, there was a distinct possibility that the Tory front bench would be called "the day before yesterday's men". By reshuffling his Shadow Cabinet Mr Hague has tried to give his party a fresh face to go with their "fresh future". Following an unexpectedly encouraging performance in the European elections, the Tories give the impression of momentum. But there is substantial work to be done before the official Opposition can be remotely regarded as a government-in-waiting.

There is more than the faintest whiff of the scapegoat about Peter Lilley's sacking. He may be more the victim than the perpetrator of the "ditching Thatcherism" farce. But it is difficult to feel entirely sympathetic towards a man who for so long relished scapegoating single mothers.

More cheerfully, we have the promotion of the class of '97, an impressive intake given its modest size. Theresa May, at education, and Andrew Lansley, in charge of policy renewal, should be measured, reasonable and televisual.

A more frightening announcement is Ann Widdecombe's move, to shadow Jack Straw. We cannot but wince at the prospect of these two competing to strike more and more illiberal attitudes. Simply inexplicable are the promotion of Angela Browning, a lacklustre former minister to the Trade and Industry portfolio, and the retention of the absentee Northern Ireland spokesman Andrew Mackay.

Some fresh faces, then, but still a relatively undistinguished bunch. The Tories' most impressive talents - Clarke, Heseltine, Portillo - remain outside Mr Hague's team. Mr Hague's Tory Party is not a broad church. And, until it becomes one again, it will remain in the shadows.