The Sketch: Simon Carr

Lightweight and likeable does not a leader make. Even a Tory leader
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The Independent Online

It was a heavy weekend. The Sketch lacks the energy to deconstruct great constitutional issues such as Gerald Kaufman's new rat-skin suit. We shall confine ourselves to the periphery: the Tory leadership campaign.

Matthew Parris' theory is that whoever reaches the final two in the ballot with Michael Portillo will beat him. Ken Clarke will beat him, Michael Ancram will beat him, Iain Duncan Smith will beat him. David Davis will ... that's odd, the words won't come out. The question remains: why will practically every Tory contender beat Michael Portillo?

It's a problem of bottom (that's a technical term). The party thinks Mr Portillo lacks bottom. It's not true. Portillo has bottom but it's a false bottom. This is nothing to do, or nothing much to do with an experimental youth. It has everything to do with fabricating, refabricating and then remodelling his political psyche out of recognition. To Tory party members (average age 350) Portillo just doesn't ring true.

That's a bad thing, incidentally.

In the sadistic and duplicitous voting system that the Tories adopted, for tribal reasons, to elect their leader, the most likely result sees heavyweight Ken Clarke failing to make the final two. That position will probably go to Mr Duncan Smith.

IDS is a likeable, rather languid lightweight. He's a gent. That's good. Rings true, that's very good. Utterly un-prime ministerial. No, that's not so good, not in this context. He's also got the same initials as Immune Deficiency Syndrome. That's not good either. Not for a party that's been invaded and disabled by a rapacious, parasitic virus that is planning to kill its host. Blairism is usually fatal, and not just to Blairs.

By a happy coincidence, on the day before the first ballot we had a chance to see IDS in action at defence questions. There's no denying it; he did perfectly well. He probably couldn't have done better. Certainly, he never has before. He showed his mettle by declaring minister Hoon wasn't telling the truth. The Speaker snapped into action. He consulted his clerk. After a while he invited IDS to withdraw the remark. It is unparliamentary to suggest ministers aren't telling the truth; no one knows why.

IDS went on to produce an attractive rhetorical pirouette, but in all probability not much better than his backbenchers.

Julian Brazier, a famous opposition front-gunner, produced a relentless question, itemising the facts of fewer sailors, submarines, frigates and navy pilots than four years ago, and declaring that many of those we had were unfit for active service.

New Defence minister Adam Ingram stood up to give Sally Keeble a run for her money as parliament's single worst ministerial performer. "Insofar as there may be fewer personnel employed in the armed forces, of course, that is about the most effective and efficient use of armed personnel that we have." Huh?

"If we'd continued with the previous administration's policy it would have been cuts upon cuts upon cuts. That's not the future."

No one can listen to a sentence like that in defence questions without remembering the errant N that John Spellar introduced to one of his most memorable phrases – was it "Tory cuts"? Mr Ingram will need something equally dramatic or people will begin to listen to what else he is saying and then he'll be finished.

If there were more ministers like Ingram and Keeble, IDS would make a great Tory leader. Unfortunately, after Blair there is Brown. After Brown there are others. Straw, Milburn, even flat-footed Blunkett. They all look bigger, burlier, weightier than this nimble guards officer.

IDS is like those pop bands that get themselves up to look like the originals. He is a Hague Tribute.

But look how well Hague worked over the past four years. Perhaps it just needs more time. Another 10 years, perhaps. Or 15. That should do it.