But grass roots ask: Why are we losing at cricket?

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The Independent Online
AT THE New Eltham Conservative Club in suburban south London last night, the current crisis was the only topic of conversation at the bar. The performance had been appalling; things would have to change.

What was concerning the white-haired gentlemen in their old school ties who had gathered to play snooker was the failure of the England cricket team in the second Test against Australia. Of the crisis gripping their party in Westminster, there was no mention.

"Nobody talks about that here," said Sid (he would not divulge his last name), a dapper 83-year-old committee member in a cardigan and tie propping up the bar. "But personally I have no idea what Lord Whatsisname was doing meeting Blair behind Hague's back. What would happen if everyone did that? It would be a bloody free-for-all."

Eltham, once the stronghold of Tory minister Peter Bottomley, was won by Clive Efford for Labour at the last election, with a 13.6 per cent swing. Perhaps the Tory grass roots here are just too cowed to bother with thinking about the future of their shattered party but more likely a revolt by ermine-clad Lords 10 miles up the road doesn't evoke much sympathy among Eltham's disenchanted and disenfranchised.

Frank Higgins, one of the snooker players, did eventually part with his own thoughts. "Lord Cranborne was trying to preserve the House of Lords, which is as much a part of our constituency as the Commons. What William Hague did was outrageous. He didn't have the right to discipline his own leader of the Lords.

"Quite frankly," Mr Higgins added with a smile, "I've never heard of this William Hague. Who is he?"

Over by the fireplace, a group of local ladies had gathered to talk about their charity fund-raising evening. One of them, who didn't want her name printed, said quite simply: "These Lords are behaving like a bunch of children, resigning all over the place. William Hague did the only thing he could do, and frankly that man needs all the help that he can get."

The feeling in Eltham was one that could give Mr Hague some solace, even though it amounts to support by default. Although there was no enthusiasm for him personally, there was a sense that something needed to be done to stop each faction of the party heading off in a different direction.

"It's totalitarian rule by Hague and he's made it clear that he's prepared to pay a price to do it," said Ken Lehmann, another local committee member.

Mr Lehmann said he didn't approve of the concept in principle. "But he's saying, 'Enough of this disjointed party, let's get it right'."