Simon Carr: You wake up and something precious is lost. We've all done that, William

The Sketch
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The Independent Online

No schoolchildren mewling, no boyish idealist puking humility. What kind of a campaign launch was this? It was the Conservatives, yesterday morning, and quite a relief, we all thought.

No schoolchildren mewling, no boyish idealist puking humility. What kind of a campaign launch was this? It was the Conservatives, yesterday morning, and quite a relief, we all thought.

Their set featured three long picture panels leaning down into the stage at 45 degrees. Surrounded by Perspex icebergs, it all bore an uncanny resemblance, as the eminent psephologist behind us pointed out, to the last moments of the Titanic.

People laughed. But why? What had that to do with the Tory party?

The Shadow Cabinet filed to the front, the big three (Big Widdecombe, Big Maude, Big-haired Portillo) took the stage seats. The Womble-composer's latest composition ( Remember You're A Tory!) filled the darkness, and then the party chairman, Michael Ancram, sonorously introduced us to the single cogent reason why the Tories can't win. Ladies and gentlemen, William Hague.

They say William Hague hasn't made the mistake of peaking too early, but the truth is he peaked far too early. Circa 1977. You just can't grow up if you're involved in politics. It's a junkie thing. Everything is consumed by your addiction. And then there's the problem junkies have with the truth. And with reality. And with paying the bills. But in every other way, he did well. Very well, actually.

The best bit was at the beginning. He conjured up those occasions "when you wake up and find that something very precious has been lost and you never quite know how or why it happened".

All of us have done that, haven't we? Woken up in a cocktail dress, with a throbbing in the head and a burning sensation in our backward parts, and it's true, Master William's right, we never knew quite how or why it ­ whatever "it" was ­ happened. Indeed, we did everything we could to prevent ever knowing quite how or why it happened. All we knew for certain was our wallet had gone. It was a good little narrative, well executed. But should the Conservative leader be introducing his election campaign on that footing?

A cogent speech followed, dense with common sense, policy, the right incentives, quite bold where it should be. And perhaps it contained the beginnings of a genuinely brave solution to the country's bankrupt national insurance fund (fund is too strong a word for it).

Alas, it was delivered with a junkie's sense of conviction, and therein lies the problem.

Later, his easy charm and quick wit served him well. Wasn't the fuel escalator a Tory idea? "When you get to the top of an escalator, you're meant to get off," he said.

Sir Edward Heath's attacks on his leadership? He smiled and described such attacks as a Tory tradition.

On to the Commons where Gordon Brown's psychological flaws are developing into open wounds. What about the new charges on care homes for the elderly (VAT is to be levied on them), John Redwood asked? "That is completely incorrect," the Chancellor said; but it wasn't true.

To Michael Portillo's proposal to allow us to opt into private, personal pensions, he said: "They are putting at risk the very basic state pension!"

That was true. It was a mistake, naturally. Trumpeting his incomprehensible billions, he crowed: "When have the Conservatives ever been able to make investment at this level?"

Ed Davey stood up to make again his brilliant point: Um, in 15 out of 18 of their years in power. Actually.

Gordon Brown dealt with that by saying: "Rollicky bollocky bullocky blubbery blah blah blah." Andrew Smith supported him by saying: "Heathery blethery drummery bummery ha ha ha."

How they deserve each other.