The Sketch: Thrilling. Chilling. Welcome to the Rocky Howard Show

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The Independent Online

"Touch-a, touch-a, touch me," the blonde sings in the Rocky Horror Show, "Thrill me, chill me, fulfil me, creature of the night!"

What's that got to do with anything? We were at the Saatchi Gallery to witness Michael Howard's relaunch. There was a poster of a sheep in formaldehyde (looking curiously familiar, didn't it once lead the Tory party?). Then there was a shark in formaldehyde (which perhaps will lead the party again?). And then there was the exhibit with the three-word title. The first words were "Two-faced" and the third was a term of informal gynaecology. You'll have to make your own jokes up but it did seem an unnecessarily daring choice of venue for a political relaunch.

"It shows what happens when you have to arrange a venue at 12 hours' notice," Mr Howard elegantly explained or, as we shall describe it in a year, shamelessly spun. It was to say this was all a great surprise, and entirely unpredicted.

And quite right too. Mr Howard's achievement is astonishing. Without any apparent footwork, handiwork or knifework, Mr Howard has squared every faction in the party. He has opened his elegant, strangler's hands and the party seems to have knelt in front of him.

This has produced the best headlines they've known for a generation. No wonder there was a euphoric mood in the Saatchi gallery among the Tories gathered. Mr Howard's speech was surprising enough to inspire hope but not ambitious enough to provoke derision. There may be those who quibble about his credentials to lead what he describes as "a broad and generous party" but remember, this is the age of reinvention. He has changed, you see. He has learnt. Preach a bit less, listen a lot more. Look forward, not back (that would be very important if you wanted to support Mr Howard).

He may be the single most unpopular Tory politician in recent history but at least people know who he is. And, in this age of reinvention, he may be able to give the party back the essential thing they have lost: respectability.

If no one announces their candidacy in the next week, Mr Howard will be installed by Thursday. He will be in place in time to answer the Prime Minister on the Queen's Speech, one of the highlights of the opposition calendar.

This is the best chance the party has had in a decade to do well. It will be very difficult - almost impossible - to foul it up. But, as we know, the very difficult can be done at once and the impossible takes very little longer.

An afterword: What will Iain Duncan Smith do now? A reader suggests there may be an place for him offshore. The parliament of Iceland is the Althing. It's in the Thing Valley, on the spot where two tectonic plates are separating - one towards America and the other towards Europe. The Althing is falling into the rift that results.

Oh, for goodness sake, leave him alone!

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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