Can you recognise these top Tories?

(50 per cent of party chairmen can't)
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The Independent Online
THEY THINK the shadow Home Secretary is "that chap we call Spock " and that their education spokesman is a clever man with glasses. One of them has not even heard Labour is in power. No wonder William Hague has decided to censor his party activists.

Many of the 50 local Conservative chairmen questioned in an Independent survey this week were right behind their leader, though some were not 100 per cent sure who he was.

"I don't follow what happens in the Conservative Party and would prefer to make no comment on the whole matter," said one respondent. "Why should I be expected to know who the shadow cabinet are?"

He and his fellow chairmen were doing little to boost morale after news broke that Central Office was planning to take the blue pencil to its private polling to soften critical comment. Party officials are worried that few members know who's who in the shadow cabinet.

"Tim Yeo's job is having sex in the gutter, isn't it?" said another respondent. "Is he in charge of the environment?" Mr Yeo is his party's agriculture spokesman.

Mr Hague's choice of key aides did have plenty of backing, though. "The Prime Minister has to pick his own team," one activist explained.

When asked how a leader in opposition should act, he replied: "Well, I don't know. You will have to ask Jumpin' Jack Cunningham."

There was also some optimism about the future. "I am a fan of people like Michael Howard and Gillian Shepherd. They are young and have a good part to play," one chairman opined. Mrs Shephard is 59 and Mr Howard is 57.

More than three-fifths of the 50 chairmen questioned knew that Peter Lilley was deputy leader and that Francis Maude was shadow Chancellor, but even those two were not familiar to all.

Asked what Mr Maude did, one chairman responded: "Goodness knows!"

Another could not remember who the deputy leader was. "I can't remember his name. He has blond hair - quite nice but shy and retiring," he said. "But it should be Ann Widdecombe."

Three party chairmen thought Gillian Shephard still spoke on education - a job she gave up at the general election, first becoming shadow Leader of the House and then spokesman on the environment, transport and the regions.

One thought the job was now held by Virginia Bottomley, the former Health Secretary.

Poor Peter Ainsworth, Chris Smith's shadow at the culture department, was placed in the correct job by just 12 of the 50 chairmen.

"Atkinson, something like that. Pass," guessed one. Another said: "I'm not at all sure. Its not important, in my opinion."

Asked to name the Conservative Party's home affairs spokesman - Sir Norman Fowler - just 18 managed to do that.

Four thought the job was held by Michael Howard, who speaks on foreign affairs.

John Redwood did much better than most, but with several eager chairman placing him at home affairs instead of trade and industry. One described him admiringly as "the Enoch Powell of our age".

Mr Yeo's high recognition factor seemed to have more to do with a past extra-marital affair than his job, and only 18 chairmen correctly named his current job.

One placed him at education, adding: "He's a good chap, I like him."

William Hague was popular with most of his party chairmen, and one said a local dinner at which he spoke was sold out almost instantly. Nearly all agreed he was fighting an uphill battle against a popular government and an unenthusiastic press.

"I am mystified as to why we're not leaping up the polls. I frankly think the world has given up on politics," one respondent said.

Another thought Mr Hague should emulate the Prime Minister: "Mr Blair walks across water every day, but he only says what he is going to do and not what he has done. We should maybe learn from that," he said.

Others were not so sure that would work, though, and seemed to fear their every move would prove unpopular.

"Mr Hague cannot fire his guns too soon otherwise policies get shot down too soon before the general election," one explained.

Some wanted Mr Hague to ditch older members of the shadow cabinet for younger MPs, but others were not sure even that would work.

"He has got to introduce new blood, but the trouble is we don't have much young blood to choose from," said David Jackson, vice-chairman of the Boothferry party and one of the few who would be named.

Mr Ainsworth could not be contacted yesterday but the chairman of his Surrey East constituency party said a 20 per cent recognition rate among party officers was not at all bad considering he had been appointed only last summer.

"His profile has been rising gently as you would expect. It does take time, and not many people watch parliamentary Question Time," he said. A party spokesman said the Conservatives had difficulty getting their spokesmen on the media, but that was now improving.

A widely held view that the Tories would gain popularity as Labour's failings were exposed was correct, he added.

"The newcomers are making an impact. That may not have got to Chipping Sodbury yet but it is a start," he said.

Interviews by Cathy Mayer, Dominic Fifield, Meera Selvananthan, Lisa Baxter and Tom Kelly

How Did You Fare?

1. Sir Norman Fowler (Home Affairs): Some mistook him for Michael Howard. "Is it that dark chap who was Foreign Secretary?"

2. Peter Ainsworth (Culture): "I can see his face but can't remember his name. He's quite slim, isn't he?"

3. David Willetts (Education): "I don't know his name but I think he has glasses."

4. Tim Yeo (Agriculture) "Who? I never see him on telly."