Leading article: The challenge for Mr Cameron

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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor