Wild horses would not drag me to the Conservative party conference at Bournemouth this week. I wish you well, but I have attended too many of these seaside jamborees, listened to too much special pleading, and have endured for too long the end of the conference leader's speech in which Tory leaders from Churchill to yourself have striven to rally the faithful. Instead, I will watch you on television from the comfort of my armchair.

This year could be your last chance to stamp your authority not only upon the party, a proportion of which has not yet forgiven you for not being Margaret Thatcher, but also upon the country at large. You are widely regarded as a 'good bloke', but far too many voters consider you, perhaps unfairly, as indecisive and unexciting - unlike your predecessor who appeared decisive (she was not) and exciting (often too much for her own good).

Tony Blair will offer more of a challenge than John Smith could have mounted - that is, for as long as he retains the support of John Prescott. Paddy Ashdown still has a strong appeal for the blue-haired widows of Bournemouth. What we look for from you is leadership, that undefinable quality which among your close colleagues only Michael Heseltine seems to possess.

Two fault lines run through the Tory party: Europe, and state intervention in industry. We cannot be half-hearted about either. Britain is 'in Europe' in order to play a leading role in its development; for too long, the Government has seemed uncertain about where it stands; the trumpet should sound. Nor should we deny the role the state should play in invigorating British industry. In the past a note of apology has crept into your voice: banish it.

Claim credit for your Irish initiative, which could yet succeed in bridging the unbridgeable. Pat us all on the back, and by so doing, put yourself in a stronger light.

Were you to tackle the tabloids you could, at a stroke, transform your standing with the electorate. Introduce legislation to make electronic eavesdropping a criminal offence (and the use of photographs taken on private land without permission). Stand up to the invasions of privacy, whether of commoners or Kings, a practice which enriches the few at the cost of the many. The editors of the so-called Tory tabloids (and the Mirror) will cry 'foul', but the voters will recognise humbug when they read it, and leadership when they see it.

The Tory right cannot be bought off, it can only be faced down. The likes of Bill Cash, Teddy Taylor, James Cran in the Commons, and my Lords Tebbit and Parkinson in the other place, are not worth a row of beans. If Michael 'El Sid' Portillo or Peter Lilley make trouble, stamp on them. I must sound like Lord Chesterfield writing letters to his son. But I have heard them all. Churchill drawing on the credit in his bank, Eden ill at ease before his audience, Macmillan who sought a new place for Britain, Alec who had little to command him save decency, Ted Heath's annual discomfort, and Margaret Thatcher's triumphalism. What we Tories need is a dollop of vision.

Yours ever,

Julian Critchley

(Photograph omitted)