Leading Article: New faces yes, but new purpose too

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The Independent Online
WHETHER wisely or not, John Major and Sir Norman Fowler have between them ensured that the promised Cabinet reshuffle vies with the Labour leadership stakes for column inches over the next few weeks. Mr Major announced the reshuffle - 'extensive and not just tinkering at the edges' - on Monday. Its immediate purpose was to show that he was still in charge after the hammering his party had suffered in the European elections. On Thursday, Sir Norman announced his impending resignation as party chairman, to emphasise that he is going of his own volition.

A likely result of these moves will be to reopen the gap between the right wing of the party, represented in the Cabinet by Messrs Lilley, Portillo and Redwood, and the less vocal majority as each side jockeys for position. A first fruit was yesterday's mischievously enthusiastic endorsement by Kenneth Baker, a Thatcher loyalist, of Michael Heseltine for the party chairmanship. Mr Baker would doubtless like to see Mr Heseltine's attractiveness as a potential successor to Mr Major reduced by taking on an essentially thankless task. Mr Heseltine quickly countered that he is happy in his present job as President of the Board of Trade.

And so it is likely to go on. Yesterday's tip for the post was David Hunt, the Employment Secretary. Mr Hunt is an intelligent, articulate and personable politician. But there is something slightly unreal about him. It is hard to see him adequately galvanising the party in the run- up to a general election. A more original and effective choice would be the former deputy chairman, Lord Archer.

The Tory chairman needs to be someone with whom the constituency parties feel a real rapport. Lord Archer is just that. He is second only to Lady Thatcher as the speaker most in demand. He has been everywhere and is the party's most successful fund-raiser. Being not only tireless but accessible and a good listener, he probably has a better idea than anyone of the hopes and fears of the currently disenchanted rank and file - and of what is needed to increase the party's appeal. He is, moreover, someone who adds to the gaiety of the nation. He could restore a much-needed sense of fun to the party.

His appointment would also avoid the need to remove an able body from the Cabinet. There are candidates aplenty for the axe, but no surplus of talent. Suitable victims include John MacGregor from Transport and Peter Brooke from National Heritage. Both are decent and honourable men, but they appear jaded. John Gummer at Environment lacks weight; and John Redwood from Wales should be removed to show that the right's whispered disloyalties are not to be tolerated.

Fresh blood is essential to create an impression, however briefly, of renewal. Stephen Dorrell, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, is overdue for promotion. As his recent speeches have shown, he is intelligent and reflective. Jonathan Aitken, a junior minister for defence procurement, is a thinking person's Eurosceptic with a wide range of experience. Brian Mawhinney has proved a feisty number two to Virginia Bottomley at Health. Baroness Blatch stood in very effectively for John Patten at Education when he was ill last year. And why not bring back the hyper-articulate David Mellor to signify that 'back to basics' is truly dead?

Political parties are like sharks: they sink if they do not swim. Mr Major must use his new team to give crisper definition to identifiably Tory policies. With Tony Blair leading Labour, the centre ground will become trampled and muddy. The Government will rediscover its appetite for power only if there are ideas it genuinely wants to implement, which are distinct from its opponents' and its own intellectual property. In the unlikely event of Mr Major presiding over such a renewal, it is just possible the Conservatives will find arguments to persuade voters to give them a fifth consecutive term.

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