Ann Widdecombe: Michael must open his eyes and listen

The Inside View

Share
Related Topics

If Michael Howard can transform the fortunes of the Conservative Party as dramatically as he has transformed his own, then we can start preparing for government now. Six years ago he trailed last in both the poll of MPs and in the poll of associations during the leadership contest. Two years ago, not in the Shadow Cabinet, he did not stand at all, knowing his case was hopeless. Today he looks set to be crowned, the sole candidate to lead a party which might just get its act together after years of in-fighting.

It is only six years since we came to the end of an unbroken run of 18 years in office, and even at a time of catastrophic defeat we won the agenda with Labour turning everything it stood for on its head. Yet for this impressive record we felt impelled to apologise. (I didn't.) Of course we made mistakes and it does no harm to admit them. Yet we have seemed hell bent on portraying ourselves in the worst light, to the comfort of nobody except our enemies, and in hell we landed, Tridents locked in internecine warfare.

Mr Howard's first task is to restore a sense of pride and purpose - pride in past achievements and purpose in our policies, pride in the name Conservative and purpose in winning. He should avoid any temptation to consider himself a caretaker because that implies acceptance of defeat before we have even joined battle.

I must have been to a hundred different constituencies in the last general election and the same two statements were made over and over again by people explaining not why they were not going to vote Conservative but why they were not going to vote at all. The first statement was that they didn't see any difference between the parties. In other words they had no choice. So Michael must not only give them choice but must make sure they know there are choices. In that he has an excellent legacy from Iain Duncan Smith. Any student or any parent financing a student knows there is a clear choice next time: tuition fees plus top-up fees with Labour or neither with the Conservatives. Any pensioner knows it is: struggle on with rocketing council taxes and inadequate pensions under Labour or vote for a party which will raise pensions in line with earnings. We need a few more policies offering equally stark choices.

The second statement was that nobody believes a word that politicians say any more. Blair has made an art form of spin and we have to do the exact opposite, telling even uncomfortable truths. For example, the fundamental problem with the NHS is that it is a 1940s system trying to cope with 21st-century science and its concomitant demands. The answer cannot, therefore, lie merely in a bit of extra cash and a bit of extra goodwill.

Is Howard the man to do all this? As far as policy goes, the answer is probably yes. He is a good thinker, intellectually formidable, forensic in analysis. He also has sheer bloody-minded determination. When he was Home Secretary he took the criminal justice system from left to right almost single-handedly and in the teeth of the Chancellor who had to pay for it all. It was an amazing performance.

Yet it is vital he broadens that agenda and vision now. Having disciplined prisons is all well and good but it does only half the job if they are not also purposeful and rehabilitative. Having tough sentencing is useful only if it is matched by a real effort to make communities safer and pleasanter, and to break the treadmill of crime. So I wish his declaration of candidature had been on a council estate rather than in a posh art gallery. I am quite happy to take him to the Arden Estate where I did my own non-declaration. It ain't far from Westminster after all. Certainly he should be able to restore pride and cohesion. His worst enemies could not accuse him of undermining past leaders and he will have the moral high ground in demanding loyalty. He will have to do more than demand: he will have to listen and to win over. It is vital that he surrounds himself with loyal friends who are more than capable of standing up to his juggernaut approach as well as doing what he has promised and forming a broadly based Shadow Cabinet.

The party appears to have recognised that we must never get to this point again. It was the one statement in IDS's forlorn attempt to win a reprieve that had everyone banging the desks in approval. The path back to power will not be a rose-strewn one: it will be a tough uphill climb. There is, however, no law of nature which says you cannot walk uphill and at least we may at last have left base camp.

Ann Widdecombe was a Home Office minister under John Major

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker