Twelve simple steps to banish the Tory blues

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TODAY'S column has been sponsored by Conservatives Alive], a non- profit organisation that relies heavily on Cypriot funding and seeks, in these dark days, to cheer up the party of government. The author has trousered a ridiculously large fee to carry out a research programme about all the good news for the Government which is too often ignored. Here are the preliminary findings.

1. Maybe there is a recovery. The new Bank of England governor, Eddie George, thinks things are looking up. On the other hand, according to his Financial Times interview, Mr George believes that Kenneth Clarke (described by himself as a political Chancellor and by others as the grunge Chancellor) will pursue 'prudent policies'. Which sounds ominous.

2. At least Margaret Thatcher is no longer in the House of Commons, but is safely tucked up at the Lords. No threats to the leadership then, from that quarter.

3. Nor from Norman Tebbit.

4. And, while we're on the subject, what has become of the great Maastricht revolt by these and assorted other peers? The Bill finished its committee stage there, to little comment, on Wednesday. As one chum of John Major puts it: 'All the old rats are tottering in their zimmer-frames over the side of SS Thatcherism.'

5. There are 108 members of the Government who have neither resigned in recent weeks, nor made embarrassing resignation speeches. Of those, five have managed not to give disloyal or disobliging off-the-record quotations to the newspapers in the past year.

6. John Major's got a nice smile. This is not a trivial point. It was, if we're honest, what won the Conservative Party the last election, far more important than taxes, Neil Kinnock being Welsh, or what have you. And guess what: after all he's been through, all those resignations, scandals, inquiries and U-turns, he's still got a nice smile.

7. To say that the Major government has lost the support of the Tory press is a gross oversimplification. For instance, in its important editorial on the decline of the English country house, the latest edition of Country Life concludes that: 'the reasons for the rate of loss are complex and cannot be laid solely at the feet of the Government.' Admittedly, it goes on to complain about a 'dependency culture' among owners of stately piles and to urge 'ministerial direction', which shows worrying signs of a takeover by sociologists. But not a bad editorial. No mention of the Christchurch by-election, for instance.

8. Paul Johnson, the right-wing columnist, thinks that unless the world's 'outrageous depravities' are fundamentally reformed during this decade, Almighty God will end the universe 'early in the next century'. This is, potentially, good news for the Treasury. The Government's majority is too small to legislate effectively for the abolition of depravity. But if the world does end on the Johnson timescale, there is a half-decent chance that the Conservatives will be able to keep cutting income tax and failing to curb spending without the country actually going bankrupt. Since the British will carry on voting for tax cuts and expensive services, this in turn raises the possibility that the Conservative Party could stay in power until the Final Judgement. (Which, whatever else it will be, won't be a judgement made primarily about the state of the public finances.)

9. Then there's the council tax. Noticed any riots lately? Any resignations of war veterans from rural Conservative Associations? Any non- payment campaigns? Could it be, just possibly, that a government policy is actually working rather successfully? (Memo to Central Office: don't let's play this up. There is probably a more rational explanation.)

10. The Prime Minister's popularity rating is still a little above the interest rate.

11. Then, there's the Opposition. Labour MPs have, for instance, just rejected a package of organisational changes designed to improve their often lacklustre parliamentary performance. But, above all, Labour is failing to inspire, despite the Conservatives' current troubles. Indeed, here's some truly shocking news: even the Belgians think John Smith is boring.

Yes, really. A recent article in De Financieel-Ekonomische Tijd chastises the Labour Party for being 'even interessant als het wolprogramma van een doorsnee wasmachine' (as interesting as the wool programme on an automatic washing machine). Why is it, the paper muses, that Labour is led by men 'gekleed als begrafenisondernemers en even enthousiast als azkalea-kwekers in Hartlepool' (dressed as undertakers and as enthusiastic as azalea-growers in Hartlepool . . . and, no, I don't understand that one either, except that it is definitely meant as an insult).

The Belgians plaintively ask: 'Waar is de intellektuele opwinding? Waar zijn de nieuwe ideeen? Waar is, in feite, de oppositie?' Waar indeed? Finally, the paper asserts that the Labour Party is as easy to ignore 'als de troonpretendent van Albanie' (the pretender to the Albanian throne). The article is headlined 'De overlevingsinstinkten van een kamikazepiloot' (the survival instincts of a kamikaze pilot). All of which shows that the art of invective is not dead, at least in Belgium.

12. And that, perhaps, is the best news for Mr Major of all. He may be a struggling Prime Minister. But it could be much worse: he could be a struggling Belgian prime minister.