CONSERVATIVES SHOULD continue to argue for privatisation because it has succeeded. What is needed is not a retreat to statism, but an optimistic search for new emancipations. The Conservatives need the 21st-century equivalent of council house sales - state-sponsored anti-statism. What about tax incentives for private health insurance? (How many people, whatever their political beliefs, do not gladly accept such insurance when their employers offer it?) What about vouchers for schools? It is time to worry less about an image and more about a message. Once upon a time - and it was a highly successful time - people knew what the Tories wanted to do. They don't now.
NONE OF this means that Mr Hague should simply sit and wait for the current controversy to dissipate. Profound damage has been done and corrective measures need to be taken. His policy document, "Action for Britain", scheduled for publication in September, has assumed increased importance. That text cannot afford to be late, vacuous or timid. Mr Hague has effectively surrendered that process to Mr Lilley and this has been an unambiguous example of failed leadership. The Conservative leader needs to take personal charge of his policy review and drive it through to completion. He cannot afford to assume that there will be no realistic alternative to his continued command for ever.
THERE IS no easy solution for the Tory condition. Conservatives initially hoped it would be New Labour's policies which would come unstuck. When they didn't, the Tories reckoned the implementation of policy would fail. When that didn't happen, the Tories looked to "events", betting that Tony Blair would crumble before them. He has not: in fact, as the war in Kosovo has proved, he is rather good at events. So the Tories are left facing a popular war leader, who has taken their core faith - in the free market - and fashioned it into a form voters like. All the Tories can do is shape a fresh doctrine of their own, one that speaks to the country anew. That means escaping the shadow of the Lady, even as they drag along a parliamentary party crammed with Thatcherites. It is a tall order, and Labour's example offers only the frailest consolation to William Hague. Labour managed it, but it took 18 years - and four leaders.
WHENEVER IT is posited that the Conservative Party is finished, wise heads observe what a tough, resilient creature it is, and recall that the same was said of Labour in 1983. But at least Michael Foot's Labour offered an alternative, however unpopular, to the government of the day; at least there was a point to it. What the point to Mr Hague's Tories might be clearly baffles them as much as the rest of us, and however young its leader, this is a very old, exhausted party evidently in the early stages of dementia. Worse still, it appears to have lost the will to live... a state of mind from which, as a geriatrician would confirm, death is seldom far removed. (Matthew Norman)
LURCHING BETWEEN tragedy and farce, the Tories continue their headlong rush towards oblivion. The party which rent itself asunder over Europe now seems intent on destroying itself on the issue of welfare. At a time when Britain needs a focused and energetic Opposition, we have a party which seems to have lost not only its self-confidence but respect for its own great past. The split over welfare is potentially as damaging to the Tories as that over Europe. And nowhere is there any sign of the leadership which might save them.
THE CONSERVATIVES need to find a new expression for their style of patriotism, which too often becomes narrow and stultifying, particularly on Europe. And they need to give urgent thought to ways of cementing the unity of the UK while embracing assemblies in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. They must argue with a new permissiveness for free market and libertarian principles, while avoiding right-wing extremes. But above all, they should recognise that, against a Government which has occupied most of their redoubts, their best hope is a clearer identity, intellectual rigour and infinite patience.
BRITAIN NEEDS an effective opposition, otherwise governments can get too big for their boots. But nearly two years to the day since their greatest election disaster, the Tories still can't speak with one voice. We told you in October that the Tory party was dead and buried. We don't want to dance on its grave.Reuse content