The pity of it is that in a good year, if everything had been going well for the Government, you might have been just the character needed at Central Office: chubby, chummy and cheerful. But the party was worried because you were untried and the post wasobviously going to be trying. And so it has proved.
It must be particularly hard for you. It can't be very pleasant hearing that you are known among the staff in Smith Square as "The Gaffer" because of your gaffes, or reading the headlines about "Hopeless Hanley". But as for being described as "a pantaloon" by a former Tory party treasurer, Lord McAlpine - well, that must have really hurt.
Have you looked it up? I have. It's not very nice. According to my dictionary, "San Pantaleone" or "San Pantalone" was a favourite saint of the Venetians and a nickname for the foolish Venetian character in Italian comedy who would appear in specs, slippers and pantaloons. In traditional pantomime he is the silly butt of the clown's jokes.
Now I know Lord McAlpine has a home in Venice so this is something of a reference in his cultural vernacular, but in this season of pantos, it appears to have struck a topical note, and may well stick. Even though you have greasepaint in your veins, it isn't the sort of theatrical excellence for which you may care to be remembered, is it?
He apparently thinks you are "totally useless", which is not very kind, but we must be positive here: you could point out that he has been saying and writing much the same about John Major for the last four years. Actually, it is not entirely true, aboutyou, anyway, because you are doing at least an adequate job as a lightning conductor.
This is what the Prime Minister needs more than anything and what, presumably, he had in mind when he chose someone of your size. The idea is that you deflect the problems from him but - and I can't emphasise this strongly enough - you do not do so in such a way as to make yourself appear inadequate and therefore merely contribute to the Government's difficulties.
You may well pause and consider the easy days enjoyed by some of your predecessors in the post. They said when Cecil Parkinson was party chairman that Margaret Thatcher would have won the 1983 election even if there had been no one at all in Central Office. In 1987, when Norman Tebbit had the job, there might just as well have been no one there, for all the bickering that went on.
What you have to do now is try and lower the profile of the party: keep your head down and remember the old days when people like Willie Whitelaw were chairman and no one even noticed.
Julia LangdonReuse content