Tim Bell: Some still believe, like yours truly

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The Independent Online

Dear Iain

You are the right man to lead the Conservative Party into the next general election. Under your leadership, the party has been doing the two things it always does when it wins elections.

First, it has pointed out just how disgracefully this Labour government has failed. All Labour governments fail, and they all fail for the same reasons, but this one's failure has been the worst.

They think they know better than we know ourselves how to spend our money and what services we want and need. So they put up taxes, and have to keep putting them up - because their powers of taxation cannot keep pace with their terrifying incompetence, and their prodigious ability to waste our money. So they lie to us, then they lie to themselves, and finally they come to believe their own lies.

They have always been driven by the idea that government should be big and in control and that the citizen, all of us, should be small and do as we are told. They pretend to consult, they pretend to listen but they do not. They even pretend to be Conservatives but they are not. You are a Conservative and so am I. Sometimes I wonder whether Crispin Blunt, Derek Conway and others are really Conservatives, or know what being a Conservative means.

The second thing the Conservative Party has done under your leadership has been to produce, for the first time in 10 years, new policies that can win votes. They are policies that offer people real choice, better services, safer streets, and the kind of future they can no longer depend on under Labour. They are policies that actually matter to real people, and as such can persuade them to return the Conservative Party to power, so that we can have better prosperity and better public services.

Exposing Labour and putting forward vote-winning alternatives are the two most important things Conservatives must do if we are to win - and under your leadership, we've been doing both and with some success, we did well at the local elections, we were ahead in the polls until this nonsense took hold.

Conservative MPs who do not share this view need to go on being ineffective as they have been since 1997, or get out of the way. This country needs an effective opposition and a change of government. You believe this; I wonder whether your opponents in the party see this as a priority or would rather put their own egos ahead of all other considerations.

Either they must have the courage to issue the kind of statement which Ken Clarke issued on Friday, and admit that they have no aspiration to lead the party. Or they should admit the truth - that they have no idea who should. In either case, that means letting you get on with your job. They should shut up: they cannot agree on an alternative and have never tried to make what they have succeed. Trust the voters. Trust the party. Trust its elected leader. Don't help New Labour, help Britain.

Throughout the time that William Hague was leader there were these constant whispers. And what did we end up with? We ended up with a leader who failed in a general election campaign and a party that suffered a second successive huge defeat.

The problem is that we again have a small number of people who are appealing to the media's desire for gossip and destructiveness. We had it when Margaret Thatcher was leading us in opposition, we had more in the Major years. We had it with William Hague. We are having it again now.

And yet my view is that it is governments that lose elections, not oppositions that win them. What oppositions have to do, and what you are doing, is simply point out government failings.

Yours truly,

Lord Bell is chairman of Chime Communications plc. He was an election adviser to Margaret Thatcher and John Major