The Week in Politics: Resurrection will not be instant but there are signs of life

Related Topics

At least Christ took two days to rise from the dead. If Michael Howard's most avid disciples are to be believed, the Tory party executed its resurrection in less than 24 hours.

Of course, wiser heads in the party know that it will take a lot longer to turn around public opinion after sporting a succession of lightweight leaders.

But it was the transformation of the former home secretary that was the overriding message he and his aides wanted to put across at his campaign launch on Thursday.

Mr Howard's attempt to reinvent himself as a caring, sharing creature of the centre-right was certainly the most striking feature of his carefully crafted speech on Thursday. Since 2001, observers have remarked that the shadow Chancellor has been on something of a journey from his former life as a reviled Major minister.

While Iain Duncan Smith was cavalier with his talk of tax cuts, Mr Howard was at pains to stress that they would have to come second to reform of public services. And when the outgoing Tory leader backed up Howard Flight's commitment to cut some Whitehall spending by 20 per cent, Mr Howard tried his best to avoid any such commitment.

Even though Mr Flight's remarks originally referred to bureaucracy, Mr Duncan Smith made the fatal error of backing the pledge when it was transmogrified by Labour into spending cuts across the board.

Given that Tony Blair will attempt to use the 20 per cent figure from now until the general election, not to mention every PMQs, Mr Howard could transform his party's chances overnight by announcing that he has dropped the whole idea. It remains to be seen if Mr Howard can be as bold as his rhetoric implies.

Once the 20 per cent albatross is removed, space would be cleared for a more effective presentation of the party's policies on schools, hospitals, crime and transport.

Turning Mr Blair's biggest negative, trust, into the Tories' biggest positive was one of many clever messages sent out by Mr Howard this week.

His "trust the people" message on public services could undoubtedly be a vote winner. In a consumer age, Labour is acutely aware that voters no longer expect the state to do everything for them. But it is precisely this zeitgeist that should be the Tories' central electoral asset; "Because it's your life" ought to be the party's slogan at the next election.

The buzz of the Howard launch, with hordes of MPs turning the Saatchi Gallery into a something like a Morrocan bazaar, was certainly a sight to behold. As one MP put it: "It's the first time I've been excited about politics since election night in 1992." But once the hype dies down, calmer voices around Mr Howard will know that they still have a mountain to climb to get back to power.

Mr Howard knows that he has to sound moderate and reasonable to recapture the lost millions of voters but in doing so cannot afford to sound soft on asylum and antisocial behaviour.

Ill-thought out policies will have to be junkedto prove the leader-elect is serious about change. When Mr Duncan Smith made his last plea to his Shadow Cabinet on Wednesday afternoon, I bumped into a cabinet minister who pointed out that "never in a million years" would Labour in opposition have come up with a botched policy such as Oliver Letwin's offshore isles plan for asylum-seekers.

Yesterday's decision by Kenneth Clarke, the true heir to the moderate, one nation Tory tradition, not to oppose Mr Howard was certainly welcomed with relief by many ministers.

For all the talk about Mr Howard's appeal, it was the former chancellor who really worried Labour because he would slash the wilder fringes of Tory policy. A pragmatist to his fingertips, a Clarke-led party would drop health vouchers, agree with some government targets, cap high-tax councils and dump an EU referendum drive.

Mr Clarke now joins that long and distinguished list of "The Best Prime Ministers Britain Never Had" that includes Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey and Michael Heseltine.

Yesterday, there was no disguising the disappointment of those on the left of the Conservative Party. "There's no two ways about it, this is a very bad period for Tory moderates," one said. "But we will be back precisely because we can't win a general election without politicians who genuinely come from the centre." The next few days will reveal whether Mr Howard sees such sentiments as a challenge, not a threat.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power