Bruce Anderson: At least the Tory grass-roots spared their party from being led by a Euro-fanatic

However gifted the centre-forward may be, he is no use if he is kicking towards the wrong goal
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The Independent Online

The Tories are facing three interlocking problems. Within the party, there is a widespread belief that the present leadership rules are unsatisfactory, in that they give too much power to the party's members and too little to its MPs. But no one has yet proposed a clear alternative. As it would probably be impossible to disenfranchise the members altogether, there would have to be a means of taking their views into account without giving them preponderance.

The Tories are facing three interlocking problems. Within the party, there is a widespread belief that the present leadership rules are unsatisfactory, in that they give too much power to the party's members and too little to its MPs. But no one has yet proposed a clear alternative. As it would probably be impossible to disenfranchise the members altogether, there would have to be a means of taking their views into account without giving them preponderance.

It would take time to devise a new mechanism, which brings us to the third problem. Aware that the public does not share their enthusiasm for leadership contests, most Tory MPs would welcome a speedy resolution. In a matter of such complexity, however, it may not be possible to achieve both the right answer and a quick outcome.

Many Tories now regret the way in which the leadership reforms were bounced on the party back in 1997. The scheme to give ultimate power to the members was devised by Archie Norman, a transient Tory MP who had little knowledge of politics and less feel for the subject, but great faith in his own ability. He made his proposals at a time when Tory MPs' political self-confidence was at its lowest, while a lot of party members were fed up with the way in which so many of their MPs had undermined the Major government.

There were attempts to resist the Norman conquest. At the party conference, Sir Archie Hamilton, then the chairman of the 1922 Committee, made a valiant attempt to defend the MPs' primacy. Sir Archie is 6ft 5in, an old Etonian and former Guards officer, the younger son of a peer and no orator. Persuading itself that it was being talked down to by a grandee, his audience was unreceptive. Jeffrey Archer was eloquent on the other side. To choose Jeffrey Archer over Archie Hamilton; it was not the most glorious moment in Tory history. (Sir Archie is now a peer himself: a fitting reward.)

There are two ways in which the Norman rules could be replaced. The first would be a three-stage election. To stand, a candidate would have to be nominated by, say, 20 MPs. There would then be a campaign in the country, after which the members would vote. The top two or three candidates would then submit themselves to their fellow MPs.

The second would be an electoral college. It would include MPs plus representatives of the party. Although there would be arguments over the weighting of votes, such a college should at least allow for a briefer campaign. But there is no sign of a consensus on the new rules. It seems unlikely that the Tories will be able to take a decision until October.

Before doing so, they should divest themselves of two fallacies: the democratic one, and the dunderhead one. According to the democratic fallacy, there is no reason why the members should not choose the leader one-man, one-vote. That would be an error; empowering the members in such a way would come dangerously close to Leninism.

Lenin believed in the leading role of the party. So do the Tory democrats. Though, unlike him, they are sincere believers in intra-party democracy, they are ignoring one vital consideration. Those who join political parties are different from ordinary voters. The same is true of those who write or think about politics, as it is, a fortiori, of professional politicians. But there is a distinction. The politicians have to win elections. So if they are sensible, they will never confuse the plaudits of the commentators, or even the approval of their own party members, with the voice of the nation.

In a letter, Baldwin once wrote that he not only knew what the talking men were saying. He knew what the silent men were thinking. A wise politician should try to do likewise, while remembering how easy it is to overestimate the silent men's desire to think about politics.

These days, few if any local Tory parties have as many as a thousand active members. A Tory MP has to earn these people's respect, because he needs their help - to assist him to win the votes of 30,000 other people, most of whom would never dream of joining a political party. So a shrewd MP is always thinking outwards. In view of that, he is best qualified to choose the leader who will be most adept at winning over the uncommitted.

Which is not to say that the views, and the common sense, of the party's members should be disregarded. Those who argue that usually turn out to be Euro-fanatics: people like Michael Heseltine, who will never forgive the party for choosing Iain Duncan Smith over Kenneth Clarke. It is an article of faith among many Tory federalists that their party's members are a clique of dim, ageing, reactionary, xenophobic dunderheads. Forget choosing a leader; such troglodytes are barely fit to chose whether they want tea or coffee.

As anyone who has visited Tory associations will know, this is a grotesque parody. If there are constituencies where the membership has aged and declined, the MP is to blame. In my experience, good Tory MPs have strong constituency associations.

Such bodies will indeed be full of members who voted against Ken Clarke. They did not do this because they were gaga. They had their wits about them. But unlike Mr Clarke, they do not want a federal Europe. They want to keep the pound and they see no point in supporting a leader who believed in a progressive erosion of British independence. That is why they picked IDS. They were right to do so.

Ken Clarke was undoubtedly the more formidable politician. Yet he would have used his considerable qualities to advocate the case of Brussels and the single currency. In so doing, he would have split his party, thus leading it to electoral catastrophe. He would not have minded too much, as long as it advanced the cause of Europe. Other Tories would not regard that as adequate compensation. However gifted the centre-forward may be, he is no use if he is kicking towards the wrong goal.

This leads us to one explanation for the weakness of post-Thatcher Toryism. The party's two most appealing politicians, Messrs Clarke and Heseltine, were both euro-fanatics. That said, Michael might have been able to lead the party had he not had his angina attack in 1997. Recognising the need for unity, he would have done a deal with the Eurosceptics, intending to betray them once he won the election. As even Hezza could not have defeated Tony Blair in 2001, there would have been no betrayal. William Hague would now be leading the Tory party with significantly more MPs in the Commons.

The Tories are stuck with real history, not the virtual version. Even if the Norman reforms are consigned to history, it is worth paying a final tribute to the Tory members who voted for Mr Duncan Smith in 2001. Though they may not have chosen a plausible prime minister, they saved their party from being wrecked on the rocks of disunion.

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