Who said that a Dodo can't be reincarnated?

IT WAS one of Lord Beaverbrook's maxims that if you did not blow your own trumpet, no one else was going to blow it for you. In this spirit, I recall an observation of the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Runcie. He told his biographer, Mr Humphrey Carpenter, that he had read a column of mine where I had written that it was a great mistake by Margaret Thatcher to fall out with the Church of England - and that she would live to regret it. Lord Runcie had not only read these words but agreed with them.

Lady Thatcher had disappeared in a puff of smoke two years before that Conservative decline had begun which was to reach its grisly end on May Day 1997. Mr John Major had to stump up for the reckless withdrawals she had made from the bank of institutional goodwill during the previous decade.

Here, however, we must be careful. The Church was a shadow of its old self not so much because of Lady Thatcher as because of its own internal government and administration. The same could be said of the BBC under Mr John Birt. Even so, few aspects of the 1980s were so striking as the way in which the then prime minister knocked away the props which had previously supported her party.

They were replaced by quangos, by their nature temporary structures, in that they could either be abolished by legislation or be staffed by members of a new, incoming party. Mr Tony Blair and his minions have so far made a few changes of the latter description, but hardly any of the former. We still live in the quango state which Lady Thatcher created.

These preliminary reflections have been brought about by another book I have read recently, Mr Hywel Williams's Guilty Men: Conservative Decline and Fall 1992-97 (Aurum Press). Mr Williams's thesis, if I understand him properly, is that for various historical reasons, separate from the inadequacies of the politicians of the 1990s, the Conservative Party is finished, done for. Or, as Malcolm Muggeridge used to say frequently to me, though it was usually about books and the printed word generally rather than about the Conservative Party: "As dead as a dodo, dear boy."

If this indeed turns out to be the case - if, as Mr Williams confidently predicts, Mr Major has "the last Conservative Prime Minister" inscribed on his tombstone - it seems a little unfair to blame him and his colleagues as enthusiastically as Mr Williams does for being the agent merely of a process of historical inevitability: or, at least, of a process which was set in train by their immediate predecessors under Lady Thatcher.

Students of this column may have noticed that I take a less apocalyptic view of Conservative prospects. Political parties have a habit of regrouping, re-forming, presenting themselves before our wondering eyes as organisations bearing the same name but commending slightly different principles.

A hundred or so years ago it was widely believed that the Liberal Party was "finished". But it returned to power in 1905 (Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman took office a month before the general election of 1906) as a party of social welfare and reform rather than of classical liberalism.

After the activities of Mr Tony Benn and others in the early 1980s, it was predicted that Labour would never hold office again. When Lady Thatcher won the 1983 election with a majority of 144, and Labour had only 209 members, these predictions became ever more strident. I can remember Lord Skidelsky writing with all the confidence of a political biographer that, as a force, Labour was finished.

It can, of course, be argued that he and others who pronounced similarly were right, sort of. Neil Kinnock began to change the party, John Smith changed it still more and Tony Blair transformed it into something else entirely. It was a different party. So it was, and is. The Conservative Party can also be changed into something more appealing, though not, I suspect, by Mr William Hague.

There are two broad approaches. The one is in the direction of the European Christian Democrats, in which case the natural leader would be Mr Chris Patten. The other is in the direction of the United States libertarians - of opposition to Mr Blair's priggishness - in which case the leader would probably be someone of whom we had never heard. It would almost certainly not be Mr John Redwood, who is himself on the prim side.

It is perfectly possible to combine both approaches - to be at once welfarist and libertarian, as, for example, Anthony Crosland was. But Mr Hague shows no sign of adopting either approach. He seems to have settled for leading the Patriotic Party. One does not have to be a fervent admirer of Sir Leon Brittan to agree with him that this is a blind alley. Mr Hague is likely to end up leading a rabble composed of the fag ends of the late Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party, of various small groups designed to guard the United Kingdom's sovereignty, in any case long ago sacrificed, and of assorted columnists (though Mr Paul Johnson is, I learn, to cease his connection with the Daily Mail at the request of the newspaper).

There is not much evidence that Mr Hague has thought deeply or at all about these matters. His chief contribution has been to change the party's rules so that, in future, it will be virtually impossible to get rid of him. His other contribution has been to make Mr Blair appear petulant at Question Time. This does not seem to have impressed the voters nearly as much as it has the parliamentary correspondents. Indeed, it may be that whatever Mr Hague does and however well he does it - great thoughts, eloquent speeches, sharp television appearances - the voters have simply made up their minds that they do not want him as prime minister, much as they did about Mr Kinnock.

I will, however, provide Mr Hague with some consolation. I have done so before, and I will repeat it. Radical governments in this country (and for all the changes he has made, I suppose Mr Blair just about leads a radical government) do not last for very long, six years at the most. The Liberals' majority of 130 in 1906 became no majority at all in 1910. Though they continued in office until 1915 (when H H Asquith formed the first wartime coalition), they were in a minority. Labour's majority of 146 in 1945 became six in 1950. By the standards of the 1970s, when Labour governed for most of the period without a majority of any kind, this earlier result was perfectly workable. But times were different then; the Palace took alarm; ministers were dying; and C R Attlee went to the country in the unnecessary election of 1951 which he deservedly lost. In 1966 Harold Wilson had a majority of 96 and four years later Edward Heath had one of 30.

Despite these favourable precedents, Mr Hague will now have an additional hurdle to clear: the reformed electoral system recommended by Lord Jenkins, which is likely to favour the alternative vote in single-member constituencies, with topping-up from a party list to attain proportionality. One consolation he can take is that electoral systems designed to favour one party often end up benefiting the other. Still, it will be a change in the voting system rather than in society which turns Tories into dodos.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

    Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'