Leading article: The challenge for Mr Cameron

Share
Related Topics

For the third time, the party has rejected its most obviously eligible candidate. This is a personal rebuff for Kenneth Clarke and a political rebuff for what he stood for. The former chancellor of the exchequer, the man who more than anyone was responsible for the strong economy bequeathed to New Labour, has good reason for disappointment.

He fought a strong campaign, especially in the early stages. He gave the best and easily the most substantial speech at the party conference. He was someone who could have taken on Tony Blair at the dispatch box without need for further training. By yesterday, though, it was clear that two things were against him.

The first was his record on Europe. His much-publicised reversal was too little and too late to convince doubting MPs, while alienating those who might have supported him as a man of principle. It is a pity that the party's most prominent pro-European was not prepared to defend his position to the last. It is high time that Euroscepticism ceased to be seen as the hallmark of a sound Conservative.

Mr Clarke's other liability was age. Had David Cameron not performed so strongly at the party conference and had he not remained in the media spotlight for quite other reasons, Mr Clarke might have come across as the candidate of responsible maturity. The more confidently Mr Cameron handled his predicament, however, the less Mr Clarke looked like the party's next leader. We hope nonetheless to see him back on the front bench. He has much still to contribute to the party.

Mr Cameron's close second to David Davis confirmed him as the centrist candidate for the party's future. It looks unlikely, but not impossible, that Liam Fox will survive into the run-off. The constituency party's enthusiasm for youth over age at the conference, and for Mr Cameron's brand of youth in particular, suggests he will be the next leader. Which is where his problems could begin.

The drugs diversion, while a test of Mr Cameron's mettle, also freed him from a closer examination of his policies. He has time to add substance to what could, at best, become compassionate conservatism for real. But he cannot afford to leave it too long. He may prevail in the constituencies, but he will inherit a parliamentary party with a substantial rump of right-wingers. They could form an internal opposition that would be every bit as troublesome as Mr Blair and his Government. To be effective, he will need to show firmness and political subtlety beyond his years.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering