Bruce Anderson: Cameron's 'A' list is the right strategy for the Tories. His tactics were just naive

It is not enough to have a clear vision. He needs a new Party Chairman
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The Independent Online

Who would have thought it? Even those of us who never subscribed to Tony Blair's moral credentials would not have dared to predict this. Nine years after all the high talk and exalted hopes for Britain, New Labour has imploded into a squabble over titles and country houses. This is no longer a Government. It is a hissing contest between mincing courtiers at Versailles, circa 1788.

More on mincing below, but the word could never apply to John Prescott: about the only derogatory term to which he is immune. Mr Prescott is unhappy. He has lost one grope-and-fumble - sorry, grace-and-favour - residence and fears that the other may be under threat. He suspects that people have been getting at him. How else to explain the lack of popularity?

Mr Prescott's personality is a harmonious blend of aggression and self-pity. Both are now at full throttle. More than ever, he looks like a bulldog chewing a bumble bee. He knows whom to blame for the stings.

It is those who have always impeded his path to greatness: the elitists and snobs, who cannot bear the thought of a prole in Dorneywood. But John Prescott is better at croquet than he is at sociology. Otherwise, he might have noticed that some of the right-wing papers in which he has been most enthusiastically mocked have also been praising Alan Johnson, another trade unionist who left school early and a candidate for the tenancy of Dorneywood.

If Mr Johnson were a quoted company on the stock exchange, his price-earnings ratio would be ridiculously high. The only time that he tried to do any serious trading was in his previous job, over public-sector pensions. Rightly, he argued that they were too generous. Predictably, the public-sector unions complained. Unexpectedly - he would have anticipated resistance - Mr Johnson responded by running away even faster than the English troops at Prestonpans. Even by late New Labour standards, that was an egregious failure of moral courage.

Even so, Alan Johnson has three advantages over John Prescott. He can speak English; everyone likes him; he does not have a social chip. If he should end up at Dorneywood, no-one would begrudge him a rural respite from his labours. It would still be preferable, however, if Mr Prescott held onto Dorneywood. There, the worst that could happen is a gouge in the lawn and a couple of broken mallets. The cost could be concealed within the gardening budget. But if he tries to act as Deputy Prime Minister, there will be gouge after gouge in the national income.

A final word on John Prescott, Dorneywood and snobbery. At the same time that Dorneywood was left to the nation, similar houses became lunatic asylums. Among the inmates, no doubt, were loonies under the delusion that they were Deputy Prime Minister. Some of them could have done the job a lot better than John Prescott.

Not that Mr Prescott is without support. David Cameron would like him to remain in office. Over the past few days, and not for the first time, Mr Prescott has been helpful to the Tory party. Without his lowering presence in the headlines, the Tories' problems over their "A" list of parliamentary candidates would have been extensively publicised.

To anyone who questions the need for an "A" list, Mr Cameron has a blunt answer: tell me how else to get a lot more Tory women into the Commons. That point is unanswerable. The Tories do need many more female MPs and there is no evidence that the party in the country would supply them. It is necessary to provide forceful encouragement from the centre.

There was a difficulty. Though Mr Cameron's strategy was right, his tactics were naïve. The new Tory leader is young, headstrong, clear-minded and confident. He knows how to think problems through and is never afraid to come to bold conclusions. But he has yet to realise that not all his adjutants are as reliable as he is.

Francis Maude is witty, clever, likeable and subtle. In a conversation with him, one savours the finest of dry sherries. Yet he is the worst Tory chairman of all time. The explanation for this lies in his personality. Infinitely richer and more complex than John Prescott's, it may be as ill-suited to high office.

In the late 80s, Mr Maude was a thin-blooded Thatcherite intellectual; like Lord John of Lancaster in Henry IV Part Two. Though the austerity was always lightened by a delicious sense of humour, one felt that if Mr Maude were to realise his promise, he would need an admixture of the mud and gore of street politics.

There was then an experience which did broaden his view of politics; unhelpfully so. A beloved, talented, brother died of Aids. Francis not only assisted at the deathbed. He had to comfort elderly parents who could not understand a world in which all this was possible.

We should salute his bravery. We should also deplore the longer-term consequences. Brooding over the years, Francis Maude has virtually come to blame the Tory political culture of the 1980's for his brother's death. This is adolescent, self-indulgent nonsense, except in one respect. Francis has a point, though it is not the one which he is trying to make. I remember the contortions which Tory spokesmen went through in the early 1980s to deny the obvious link between Aids and buggery. When Aids began, Willie Whitelaw was Home Secretary. It is tragic that there are no films of the briefings which civil servants gave him.

Willie, white-faced, aghast, as officials explained the details of sexual practices hitherto unknown to him - he was a Wykehamist, not an Etonian - which could give rise to Aids; among the greatest comic moments in British history. There is only one respect in which Willie Whitelaw and Margaret Thatcher could be held responsible for the death of Aids victims. If their government had denounced the health hazards of buggery as vehemently as other governments denounced nicotine, some victims might have been discouraged.

But Francis Maude seems to wish to take revenge for his family's problems on the Tory faithful. David Cameron wanted an "A" list in order to encourage women. Mr Maude wanted to use the "A" list to humiliate the traditional Tory party. Naturally enough, the Tory party kicked back. Francis Maude then panicked and said that there was no need for seats to adopt "mincing metrosexuals". It is hard to think of a sillier comment ever made by any serious politician.

The consequences are predictable. If Mr Maude continues to insult the Tory party, it will soon be as discreditable to be on the "A" list of Tory candidates as it is to be a millionaire donor to the Labour party.

The Young Master needs to learn a lesson from this. David Cameron must realise that it is not enough to have a clear vision. He must appoint subordinates who can carry it through. He needs a new Party Chairman.