Something of the night descends on Tory HQ

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The Independent Online

The skids, it seems, may be under Michael Howard (writes Fergus Lobby, our man with his ear to the floor in Westminster).

Yes, the first fine careless days of rapture may already have turned to disillusionment under his leadership, as the Tory party realises it has shown no improvement in the polls and is no more united than it was before.

"We really thought we had put the bad old dithering Duncan Smith days behind us," says one of Duncan Smith's erstwhile greatest supporters. "At last, with Michael, we thought we had a leader who could make decisions. We really thought that under Michael's inspired guidance we could reunite the party, win a snap election and sweep to power. But have we? Not as far as I remember. And I am beginning to think that under Michael we never shall."

That sort of despairing talk is increasingly being heard in the inner circles of Tory thinking (writes Derwent Brolly, our Inner Circles correspondent). But it may well be that the Tory party comes alive only at times of a leadership crisis, and then goes into a deep sleep when it has a leader.

There is an ever-growing school of thought which says that Michael Howard will be more effective as a sort of prince regent than an outright leader. The moral? Don't confirm him in office. Keep him on probation.

"Absolute bunkum," growls Sir Keith Delftpot, Chief Entertainment Officer of the 1922 Committee. "If I have learnt one thing over the years, it is that the man in charge of the party makes very little difference to our performance. What really matters is the quality of the wine at the 1922 Committee, and the high standard of the cabaret on offer. Next week, for instance, we've got a really tasty brouilly coming in for only £7.99, and a run of three nights late-night cabaret with the fabulous Ned Sherrin Singers. Can I put you down for a table?"

Perhaps the whole trouble with Michael Howard's rise to the top of the Tory hierarchy is its timing (writes our Hallowe'en expert, Lady Dominatrix). His otherworldly appeal, his beyond-the-grave pallor, his hooded eyes, were all suited to the last week in October, and no doubt they will still seem equally appealing in Bonfire Week, with his fearsome features outlined against a demonic fresco of fireworks, but as we work our way to the end of the pagan part of the year and approach Christmas, there is a fear among party faithful that the forces of good and holy will cramp Michael Howard's style.

"If, during Advent, Michael is found with a stake through his heart, and a wreath of garlic round his head," says a source who wishes to remain alive, "I think that will in some way justify those of us who had doubts about his election in the first place. Indeed, he has not yet been elected. There is still time to stand against him for the leadership. I believe nominations can still be accepted until midnight."

Midnight! The very hour at which Howard's powers are greatest! (writes Sebastian Folly, our expert on bat migration patterns). Take heed, then, any brash young Tory upstart who braves the darkness, who gathers a crowd of peasants together with billhooks and forks, and blazing torches, and who leads this ill-trained rabble up the long drive to Schloss Howard!

Oh, they can batter on the castle doors, crying such simple slogans as: "He may do well in the Chamber, but he always looks creepy on TV!" and, "We, the country constituencies, resent having this city slicker foisted on us, oo, ar!", but come the moment when the gates open and the cruel gaze of Michael Howard falls upon them, and the mob falls back, unable to meet his eye, calling on St Paxman to help them, it will be a different story...

How long will this pathetic idea of Michael Howard as a sort of Dracula go on? (writes our Comedic Cliché Expert, Bram Elton). It's hard enough to take Michael Howard seriously as it is, but to see him as some kind of prince of darkness is just too... Hold on. What are those birds? They're ravens, aren't they? Why are they coming so close! My God, they're attacking me... Oh, my God...!

More from our team of experts soon