The Sketch: Breath of fresh air from modern sort of old-timer

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The Independent Online

I was a little overdressed for canvassing, even in Kensington and Chelsea, so the candidate asked me to take off my hat. It's not the tweed suit so much but the combination of hat, suit and waistcoat makes one look, I don't mind people thinking, a bit of a twat. In Malcolm Rifkind's phrase: "Too much like an old-time Tory." He's one to talk. He looks like a modern sort of old-time Tory with the sort of careless clothes that patricians like to affect. That is, he's wearing two parts of different suits.

I was a little overdressed for canvassing, even in Kensington and Chelsea, so the candidate asked me to take off my hat. It's not the tweed suit so much but the combination of hat, suit and waistcoat makes one look, I don't mind people thinking, a bit of a twat. In Malcolm Rifkind's phrase: "Too much like an old-time Tory." He's one to talk. He looks like a modern sort of old-time Tory with the sort of careless clothes that patricians like to affect. That is, he's wearing two parts of different suits.

Having been out of the country during the 1990s I know nothing about Sir Malcolm. At the last party conference he gave a speech which made me think he could be the next leader of the Conservative Party. If David Davis loses his seat (and in this malevolent universe anything is possible) I will put £100 on it. He's ethnic (that's modern). He's got a terrific voice, as many of the old-time politicians have. And he's cheerful.

He's the most cheerful Tory I've met in a long time. He's even more cheerful than David Davis. There is a live line at the corners of his mouth which shows he's not putting it on. He, along with Ken Clarke, was one of the longest-serving ministers since Gladstone. When asked for the one word which motivates his political philosophy, he's able to give it. Liberty. Now we're getting somewhere. If he'd add in property and patriotism too we'd have a Conservative Party back in business.

This idea has occurred to others. "Your first duty is to depose Michael Howard," a middle-aged man says to him on the street. "You are honest. He's dishonest." Sir Malcolm deals with this pleasantly. He would be less than human if he hadn't considered the possibility and the mechanics of how it might come about. So he deals with it firmly, without exactly picking a fight over it.

"I hope I can count on your support?" he asked, and everyone we met agreed - Americans, a Japanese lady from Essex, a distant Guinness, Mrs Meyer the ambassador's wife, and Egon Ronay (it's a mixed constituency). One respectable-looking fellow had a subtly different position. "No you can't," he said. "I don't like you and I don't like your party. I don't like any of you. I'm voting for the Socialist Green Party!"

"They deserve your support, sir!" the candidate said. "I hope you come second!"

This is all likeable stuff, isn't it? It's not what we expect from Tories, so likeability is certainly a very good start.

But does he have the emotional energy to work out how to transfuse his principle of liberty into modern administrative practice? I doubt it, but then I'm still young enough to be pessimistic.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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