If Hague is to be prime minister,he must return to the centre ground

Share
Related Topics

William Hague was entitled to drink a bottle of champagne yesterday - albeit the cheap supermarket variety that goes flat quickly and leaves a nasty hangover. Any attempt to reach for vintage Krug would have been unwise and premature.

The Tory leader has successfully proved that in the battle to shore up his core support, in areas where Labour apathy and low turn-out are the enemy, his strategy has worked. The appeal to the base instincts of those voters who want to bash burglars, queers and asylum-seekers has resulted in good gains for the Tories in councils such as Southend. But it won't work at a general election and it is too late in the day for Mr Hague to change course.

When it comes to elections where the moderate, educated, middle-class voters turn out in substantial numbers, as they did in the formerly safe Conservative constituency of Romsey, Mr Hague's laager strategy has bombed badly.

The message is now clear. Mr Hague has already privately decided that any prospects of a Tory return to power are at least two general elections away. The opposition leader is a virtual politician. He is a virtual prime minister who rather enjoys a virtual world in which he is king already.

Mr Hague actually likes being Leader of the Opposition and, for the moment, simply wants to ensure that he continues to do the job after the next election. The past few weeks of populism and opportunism have strengthened his position inside the Tory party and ensured that he may well be able to keep his current job after the general election.

I believe that, if this is the limit of his ambition, he is right to maintain his current strategy. But if he ever has designs on being a real prime minister he needs to embrace, now, the Steven Norris experiment of inclusiveness. Mr Norris deserves the credit for reaching out to other parties' supporters, in his outstanding performance in London. He should be ennobled and parachuted into the Shadow Cabinet in a campaigning role.

In the meantime, Mr Hague's short-term strategy will be testing the shadow Chancellor, Michael Portillo,to destruction. Mr Portillo probably thought the leadership would fall into his lap, afteran election defeat, next year. It won't unless that cigarette paper, which Mr Portillo once said we could not put between himself and his leader, becomes the thickness of a packet of Rizlas. It is time for Mr Portillo to recognise that he canno longer rely on Mr Hague to go quietly after next year's election defeat. He should start dusting down that speech he made about Tory inclusiveness, after his own defeat in 1997, and re-establish his new centrist credentials now.

The centre ground Mr Hague has vacated cries out for a moderate Tory voice. Mr Portillo should do, nationally, what Mr Norris did in London. Then, if he has any political courage, he should dare to challengeMr Hague next year. "He who dares, wins", Mr Portillo once famously declared. We shall see.

The author is a former Conservative MP.

React Now

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

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering