Urbane rebel reveals the party's irrelevance

Share
Related Topics

Robert Jackson is a natural, quixotic rebel but an unlikely turncoat. Somewhat of the absent-minded professor type, he is urbane, erudite, courteous and charming. I once travelled with him on a parliamentary delegation to Namibia where I saw at close quarters a thoughtful, kindly man who was rarely given to political risk-taking or dramatic gestures.

Although well to the left of the average Thatcherite, he seemed to fit in well with the historic broad strand of "One Nation" Toryism that still had a central role in the fabric and structure of even Mrs Thatcher's party - albeit not necessarily at the policy-making level.

He had always been a pro-European, coming to Westminster from a term in the European Parliament, but he was enough of a team player to be regarded as the classic example of a competent MP capable of "balancing the ticket" when it came to recruiting an equal number of "wets" and "dries" to the junior ministerial ranks. Even after he left ministerial office and became disappointed with the subsequent direction of the Tory party, he conducted his disagreements with the utmost civility. Whips were slow to chastise as his views were usually based on deeply held principles.

Mr Jackson does not enjoy the limelight but the effect of his 15 minutes of fame will have a greater impression on the public image of the Conservative Party than Michael Howard is prepared to admit. Mr Howard is right that, come the general election, this defection will have long since become yesterday's news. But that the defection traffic, with a general election only some 15 weeks away, is still from Tory to Labour indicates just how irrelevant to the national political debate the Tory party is.

Many will accuse Mr Jackson of the ultimate betrayal. The suspicion will be that, having enjoyed 22 years at Westminster under the Tories, he is making a cynical attempt to book a passage into the Lords. This charge has already been made by the Tory MP Julie Kirkbride. I doubt, however, that - even if Mr Jackson ends up eventually in the Lords - this was his original motivation. He has been out of sorts with the party for several years and this is evidenced by his decision to announce, almost immediately after Iain Duncan Smith became leader in 2001, that he would not stand for re-election in Wantage.

Others will worry that Mr Jackson's departure may presage a bloodbath even before, and certainly after, the expected May election with further defections. I doubt that will happen, but the message this defection sends out is that many former Tories feel that Mr Blair is just as good a conservative as anyone - without the opprobrium that goes with the label.

Mr Jackson's most damaging claims are of Mr Howard's opportunism and the description that the Tory leader "only has two registers: one is scorn and the other is anger". These will be milked mercilessly by Labour in the run-up to the election, even though Mr Jackson will by then have disappeared without trace.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum