Leading Article: Yesterday's men or a Tory tomorrow?

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OL' "TWO BRAINS" is back. So is "Doris Karloff". From some of the press coverage one might be forgiven for thinking that the Leader of the Opposition had spent yesterday casting for a Hammer horror movie rather than restructuring his frontbench team. The impression is doubly unfortunate in that Mr Hague has promoted politicians like David Willetts and Ann Widdecombe who, despite their fearsome reputations and B-movie nicknames, are more likely to impress the voters than those they have replaced. Miss Widdecombe in particular has shown what wit, ability and a combative disposition can do even in an age when spin and looks are assumed to count for all. She, along with most of the rest of us, was obviously quite wrong to write her political career off after her celebrated "something of the night" attack on Michael Howard.

True, Miss Widdecombe, Mr Willetts and the new shadow Chancellor, Francis Maude, have "form", but they are not readily recognisable as relics of the last government and thus "yesterday's" men and women. Mr Hague has also tilted his team towards a fresher future by saying good-bye to Sir Brian Mawhinney, for so long the unacceptable face of Majorism. But to replace him as shadow Home Secretary with Sir Norman Fowler, a man who has been around so long that he was in Margaret Thatcher's Shadow Cabinet twenty years ago, is to replace yesterday's man with the day before yesterday's man.

But then, does anyone care who the shadow Chancellor is? Does your heart beat a little faster now that you know that Peter Ainsworth is shadow Culture Secretary?

After all, even if Labour had only squeaked in last time there would still be three or four years before the next election. And, if the pollsters and the wiseacres are to be believed, none of Mr Hague's team has much chance of being in a position to run anything for the best part of ten years, if then. But these moves do matter, for these people are the alternative government.

In the meantime their job is to oppose - and we should also care about the quality of political opposition, as fresh doubts are aired about the effectiveness of Parliament and the concentration of power at No 10. Harold Macmillan thought that opposition should be "fun". He may have gone too far in suggesting that it should be entirely unencumbered by a sense of responsibility, but the need for a team of hard-hitting, lively parliamentarians, not above a bit of knockabout, has rarely been more keenly felt.

Yesterday marked the end of what one of Mr Hague's aides called his "interim" team. But, while there is yet some talent to promote, there are still a few too many of "yesterday's men" on the opposition front bench for the current line-up to be definitive. This will not be the last reshuffle before we really see a fresh future for the Tory party. But let us hope Mr Hague has given himself some more leverage against a government that has rarely been effectively opposed.

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