The Tory Leadership: Political spectres point the way

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The Independent Online
Just before Archie Hamilton, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, announced the result of the final ballot for the Tory leadership, odd apparitions - the ghosts of the recently defeated - mingled with live Tory MPs in the stuffy committee corridor. Allowed furloughs from Hades, Hugh Dykes RIP, the late Olga Maitland, the departed Nirj Deva and Jacques Arnold (who buzzes now in a darker place), shook hands with the living. These wraiths - half ectoplasm, half Chateauneuf du Pape - wafted about like walking epitaphs, "as I am - so shall ye be!"

And for once, they were heeded. Their quick colleagues finally did what they always had to do, and elected Billy the Kid. In so doing they opted for an unknown future, rather than an all too familiar past. In the public crannies of the House various spotty, pin-striped Tarquins with slicked back hair, cheered heartily as the result was made public. Their party can now move forward, even if they haven't the faintest idea where to.

The manner of the victory, achieved in such a messy and silly fashion, will soon largely be forgotten. The lingering memory will be of the bizarre Clarke-Redwood ticket, which had all the appeal that a Hattersley-Livingstone alliance to defeat Kinnock would have had back in 1983. The idea of yoking together "big-hitters", whose main predilection would have been for hitting each other, was like something from a Michael Dobbs novel. Next thing we know Tory MPs will be having it off on the Speaker's Chair during recess.

But we can now expect that every time the infant Hague slips up (and he will. After all, would you care to fashion a shadow cabinet out of that lot?), someone will say that things would have been better under Clarke. And certainly the lunches would have been more fun, the exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions more humourous.

Clarke's essential unseriousness, however, was quickly demonstrated by his refusal to serve under Hague. Just as he couldn't be bothered to argue for the essential modernisation of his party over the last five years, so he cannot be fagged to contribute to the process now. How he would have coped with the phenomenal self-discipline and determination of our present Prime Minister is not at all clear.

That is Billy's role now. And Mr Hague's political talents should not be under-estimated - as babies go, he is a very clever one. There may have been complaints about his various tergiversations in the last week, but this leadership election was not one in which any candidate was ever going to emerge looking good.

But what will he do? Or, rather, what is he - and his party - for? What is their "project"? For opposition, as Mr Blair will tell him, is not enough. Nor is a vague (if powerful) desire to get back into power. Nor, even, is the retention of a clever ad agency, or the employment of a subtle communications director.

Let us take it for granted that Hague - as a modern man - understands the need to democratise his party, and to reinvigorate it. But it needs a purpose.

The danger of triumphant new Labour is always that - despite its rhetoric - it will be too bossy; that it will ban too much, not devolve sufficiently, sacrifice the individual too often. This leaves room for a new Opposition, but one which turns its back on the old right, on the old authoritarianism, on the ancient intolerances - and which stands for small government, the awkward individual and gay rights.

Or there's always the Liberal Democrats.