Grubbing for votes is fine, Mr Hague, but get it right

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It has been alleged this week that William Hague has been engaged in opportunism. It has even been suggested that, because there are elections coming up next week, he has struck poses which were in some way intended to increase the number of votes cast for the Conservatives. Whatever will these devious politicians think of next?

Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy, meanwhile, who have been responsible for many of the accusations levelled against the Tory leader, should pause to tell us with a straight face that they have never adjusted their message in the light of focus-group research or newspaper comment.

The point is that Mr Blair and Mr Kennedy accused Mr Hague of the wrong crime. His crime is not opportunism but incoherence. It is right that politicians should address themselves to people's irritation at the growing number of asylum-seekers whose claims for refugee status have not been assessed. But this should not mean dishonestly suggesting that Britain, with its proud history of tolerance and long history of benefiting from being a safe haven, has become a "soft touch" for "bogus" asylum-seekers. Especially when the root problem has been the lamentably inefficient processing of asylum claims under governments of both main parties.

As for Mr Hague's response to the outcry over the verdict of murder against Tony Martin, the man who killed a burglar, the initial thought processes may have been a little more principled, but the policy he came up with was so intellectually feeble as to be laughable. Of course some people in isolated houses may feel particularly vulnerable to crime, but to suggest that the answer to this problem is to change the "presumption" of the courts in cases like Martin's is irrelevant. Worse than that, it would undermine the rule of law completely. Mr Hague's advisers proposed that, if someone claims to believe, however unreasonably, that their life is at risk, they could never be found guilty of murder. That would have got Kenneth Noye off the second time.

The real problem from the point of view of Martin's supporters is that the murder charge could not be reduced to manslaughter and the judge had no discretion to reduce the life sentence. Those are two "tough" policies on law and order which the Conservative party has long supported.

A credible opportunism would require Mr Hague to engage in rather more difficult and thoughtful analysis of his party's policies than he has managed recently.

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