Leading Article: Heseltine recognises a thankless task

Share
Related Topics
THE CHAIRMANSHIP of the Conservative Party is conventionally regarded as a poisoned chalice, and there is a sense in which this judgement is beyond question. Since the Second World War there have been 19 Tory party chairmen, and (John Major please note) no chairwomen. At least seven of the more successful - Hailsham, Butler, Macleod, Whitelaw, Parkinson, Tebbit, and Patten - could have hoped to lead their party. None went on to do so.

But it would be perverse to blame either the job or their performances in Central Office for the failure of such people to reach the summit. Death, domestic difficulties and the sheer flood of political events swept them aside. Why is it, then, that Tory politicians such as Michael Heseltine shiver when it is suggested that the leader's fickle finger might point at them? In part it is because the job is commonly misdescribed. Sir Norman Fowler is known, officially, as Chairman of the Party Organisation (note that final, diminishing word). But even that is to exaggerate. Sir Norman's role is similar to that of the managing director in a chaotic company with, on the one hand, autonomous regional offices and, on the other, a powerful executive chairman.

John Major, as leader, fills this latter role. Sir Norman holds office at his leader's sufferance, and acts at his bidding. Sir Norman will depart, immediately and without question, when Mr Major so decides. And when he does leave, it will be without the compensation of stock options, golden handshakes, non-executive directorships or any of the other little sweeteners that industrialists have come to expect. The most the departing one can expect is a life peerage, which in effect excludes him from future participation in the prime ministerial race.

As if this were not bad enough, the chairmanship of the party organisation is one of those jobs in which you cannot win.

If things go wrong, it is the chairman's fault. If they go right, the leader takes the praise. Consider the 1992 general election. Mr Major is widely credited with having won it against the odds. Had the Tories lost, however, it is a safe enough bet that inept chairmanship by Chris Patten would have been blamed. The chalice may not be poisoned, but Mr Heseltine is wise to refuse to sip from it.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Ebola outbreak took three months to diagnose because it had never previously been detected in West Africa (Reuters)  

My hero of 2014 sacrificed herself to save countless others

Ian Birrell
The Queen spoke of respect for all cultures and faiths in her Christmas message  

Decoding the Queen's speech: Was Her Majesty taking a swipe at Ukip?

Jane Merrick
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month