Clarke candidacy highlights Tory dilemma…

Leading on from where Gonzo left off. Clarke is 65, and this is his third bid for the leadership. Precedent suggests he’s not well matched to an aging party suspicious of his pro-European views (though he’s getting distance between himself and the Euro), and his anti war stance (only five other Tories followed him into the no lobby). But the serial failure of his previous rivals hardly recommends a hard man of the right either.

The Times doubts he has the numbers to win. As the Toryleadership blog notes, he’s more popular with Labour insiders than Tories.

Being attractive to your main opponents can be a political millstone. But it could also be a singular advantage to a party that has failed to make any substantive electoral appeal beyond its own core support for well over a decade.

Jackie Ashley (hardly a prospective Tory voter), believes he has the capacity to charm and communicate in a similar manner to the late Mo Mowlam. Presumably he can dispense with the services of whoever coached IDS to that appalling performance in his “quiet man is turning up the volume” speech.

Currently the party is split between the modernisers (for whom questions of style are important) and those who believe policy should be the core of their offering. In reality, it’s unlikely that the party can have one without the other if it is determined to return to status as Britain’s natural party of government.

If the Tories were to put Clarke in the hot seat, they might have a a solution to the problem of style. But he will also need a big idea or two to 1, allow him to unify party, and 2, hit Gordon Brown with something that voters will take note of?

Those ideas will have to come recognisably from the right (the Nixon and China motif) if he’s to achieve the former. And they’ll have to have something of the post-Blairite about them to do the latter.

See Excerpts from the Mail interview.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    From the Tory modernizers I have met so far I wouldn’t characterize them as being simply about style. They see the problem as being a deep values gap between the kinds of ABC1’s that are the essential demographic to winning a wider election victory and the current Tory party. Part of that is a presentational issue in the sense that the way this group perceives the Tory party is a big part of the problem. In some of the polling done by Lord Ashcroft a policy could score a decent support level but once identified as a Tory policy the exact same policy proposal could lose 10 or more points of support. The mere fact of the proposal coming from the Tories was enough to reduce the support level. In this sense the idea that policy alone is the route to salvation is probably a mistake as the public’s perception of the Conservative party is actually a large component of how much they like the policy. Are you really that shocked to learn that sometimes who is telling you something is as important as what they are telling you? The modernizers recognize this fact and seem to advocate a shift in public perceptions and closing the values gap as the first step in improving Tory fortunes. Policy will come after that as you start to build credibility and position yourself to present new policy proposals that also engage the voting public.

    Will they do it though? I am not holding my breath. Davis has a good back story but can he connect with the public and fill the values gap? Hard to tell and I suspect a softer image leader would be a better choice so I think Clarke or Cameron a better choice. Time will tell I suppose.

    I still think the UUP has the same problems but until such time as someone comes up with £750,000 of their own money to do all the necessary polling research that is hard to quantify and it will be endless arguments about policy over style when in truth they are inextricably linked.

  • slug

    The problem I have with Cameron is that I can not bring to mind much about him. He sounds bland – in a Blairite way. He is also an Etonian – the Fettes of England, it I might reverse what they said about Blair’s school (Fettes in Edinburgh).

    Now, I am not keen on anti-private school prejudice, but Eton is a definite negative for many people. I don’t think he has the same man in the street appeal as Clarke.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    It seems harsh to punish a man for the fact of where his parents sent him to school. Although of course you have a point. It is a stick to beat him with because Tories have to live down the ‘posh nobs’ label and an Etonian leader doesn’t help that much. Blair on the other hand is every bit as privileged but he is outside the norm in Labour and thus it is a strength. Ironic really and not a little unfair.

    Clarke’s problem is age. He will be 69 at the next election do we want a 70 year old PM? I am not so sure the UK would be as tolerant of that fact as America is of 70 year old Presidents. At least Cameron is young. Personally I like Clark and I met him many years ago when he was Chancellor. He was great craic and stood next to me while he gave the best running heckle of Michael Mates attempted speech I have ever heard. He certainly has a man in the street appeal and he is charming but I still wonder about a PM older than a judges compulsory retirement age?

  • slug

    I think, with respect to his age, that brings some authority and experience. Michael Howard is actually about the same age and it didn’t seem a problem with Howard. Was that because Howard’s wife was a supermodel?

  • D’Oracle

    Mick,

    “suspicious of his pro-European views” is it ; I think ‘paranoid about …’ would be an even more accurate description of these dangerously friendly perspectives he’s alleged to have towards all of Great Britains (dreadful)neighbours.?