August 30, 2005

If the Conservative Right does not unite behind a single candidate, Ken Clarke will be the next Conservative Leader - says Watlington

Posted by Watlington

Gordon Brown famously stepped aside in the 1994 Labour leadership race to ensure that his fellow moderniser Tony Blair was elected leader. If both Liam Fox and David Davis remain candidates for the Conservative leadership, they will both in all probability lose to Kenneth Clarke. The Conservative right will only win the leadership election if it unites behind a single candidate, argues Watlington. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

If Liam Fox and David Davis do not resolve their differences there is a strong possibility that the Conservatives will end up with Kenneth Clarke as leader.

The confirmation that Ken Clarke is to stand for a third time as Conservative leadership candidate should be taken seriously. In contrast to 2001, Mr Clarke is making a serious effort. He has raised some decent money to fund the campaign and has assembled an experienced campaign team. Like a bucking bronco Mr Clarke has seemingly thrown away his pro-European baggage and is all set to become the "anyone but David Davis" candidate.

If anyone doubts the strength of Mr Clarke, consider the following: he is too canny an operator to enter the contest without knowing that he would have a significant amount of support, particularly since Mr Rifkind is seemingly going nowhere. Why vote for a one nation accountant when you can choose a one nation jazz impresario instead?

Secondly, witness Mr Cameron's recent attacks on Mr Clarke and his relurch to the right after weeks of "pragmatic politics" and Portillista clamours for "modernisation".

Although the architect of Mr Howard's pre-election "tough on asylum seekers and gypsies" campaign, post-election Mr Cameron initially swiftly distanced himself from the core vote strategy, pledging a "new" "inclusive" Conservative Party.

His campaign team spun to the press that he was having meetings with Michael Heseltine and was hoping to come to an agreement with Mr Clarke.

However, as soon as Mr Clarke became a serious threat, Mr Cameron realised he needed to try and garner votes from the Tory right which thus far has coalesced primarily around David Davis and Liam Fox.

Hence Mr Cameron's recent - excellent - speech (written by his chief cheerleader Michael Gove MP), which attacked Islamic extremism and modern multiculturalism. This speech was an attempt by Mr Cameron to retread the ground that David Davis had set out earlier in the Summer, in an article for the Daily Telegraph.

The reality is that the left of the Party are so determined to try and stop David Davis that they will vote for the candidate who is most likely to achieve this. If Cameron supports slips, many of his backers will go to Clarke. The former Chancellor may also pick up some Rifkind remnants and possibly some of David Willetts's stragglers.

If the right wing vote fragments between Mr Davis and Mr Fox then there may be trouble ahead. If a maverick right winger from the new Cornerstone group (like Edward Leigh) runs in order to send a message - and wins say the votes of ten MPs - then Mr Clarke's prospects become very good indeed.

However personable, Mr Clarke is wrong on the major issues of our time, most notably on our relations with Europe and the war on terror. Just like Michael Howard, Mr Clarke also represents a reminder of the Major era a major source of negativity about the Conservative Party. Charisma alone is just not enough for the Conservatives to win the next general election.

If the right of the Conservative Party is serious about having one of their people elected as leader, it must stop messing about and unite behind a single candidate. If it does not unite they could let in a Ken Clarke leadership by default. It is all very well having a few months of speculation and lobbying on key issues, but come September, the right of the Party - if it is to stop Ken Clarke - must make a choice and stick by it.

If either man is to win, Liam Fox and David Davis should put aside their personal differences and come to an agreement about the contest and its various stages. The reality is that the two candidates have much in common, at least in policy terms. They are both pro-atlanticist, believe in lower taxes, want to recast our relations with Europe and support market reform of public services. But, unless rightist Tory MPs unite behind one candidate and Mr Fox or Mr Davis makes a personal sacrifice - just as Gordon Brown stepped aside for Tony Blair - then if Mr Clarke becomes leader they will only have themselves to blame.

Ps. In the last Watlington article, The Airey Neave test: which Tory leadership candidate has the strongest team?, Watlington examined the strength of the various leadership campaign teams. Watlington has since been informed by Mr Rifkind's office that Mr Rifkind has recently hired Bob Seely, a former press officer to Michael Howard and Toby Vintcent, a senior activist well-known on the Greater London Conservative circuit. Mr Seely fought Broxtowe at the last election and had a creditable swing of 3.6%. Highly ambitious, he was disappointed not to have remained Mr Howard's press officer when Mr Howard became leader and ended up doing campaigning logistics at Conservative Central Office. Mr Vintcent is affable and a seasoned constituency campaigner. He worked on Jeffrey Archer's mayoral campaign. (Mr Rifkind is also an old and loyal friend of Lord Archer.) Mr Vintcent's bible is the American campaigning book All's Fair, co-written by (husband and wife) Republican Mary Matalin and Democrat John Carville. These additions to his team do give Mr Rifkind a small boost and improve his "Airey Neave test score" from 5% to 25%.

To read more by Watlington, see Watlington.

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Conservatives need to ask themselves, "Do you seriously want to win?"

Have you had enough of opposition?

Who is popular in the country?

Nixon's dictum that to win the leadership of the Republican's he had to tack to the right, but to win the presidency you have to tack to the centre is being applied.

KC wants to neutralise the Europe issue - which he correctly sees as basically buried for the forseeable future - this is to mollify the right.

Fox and Davis are less likely to win the popular vote than KC - those are the facts. If you want the Tories to win the next general election, you need Clarke at the helm. From the Left or Right of the Tory party surely does not matter as much as the next government being a Tory government.

Ideological purity is what kept Labour out of power for decades.

Posted by: Guido Fawkes at August 31, 2005 11:08 AM

The fact of the matter is, as Ferdinand Mount pointed out in the Telegraph, Clarke has been wrong on *every* major issue. Not that this has curbed his arrogance and self-satisfaction to any observable degree. That sing-song know-it-all voice of his is enough to put my teeth on edge. It's a bit rich coming from someone who has been so wrong so often.

Furthermore, if this lazy and self-indulgent slob is known for anything it is for the large number of fake directorships he holds, and for the disastrously ignorant and rude attitude he had to the teaching profession, during his brief inglorious tenure as Education Secretary. None of this is likely to endear him to the public insofar as they remember it. Not that everyone will be put off - because he simply isn't on many younger voters' radar screens at all. It is doubtful if anyone under the age of forty has much of an awareness of Clarke.

He'd be an unmitigated disaster for the Tory party. And I, for one, would never vote Conservative while he held the leadership.

Posted by: Damian at August 31, 2005 12:36 PM

Not sure I accept your premises - but the question remains, would rather have Brown or Clarke as PM?

Posted by: Guido Fawkes at September 2, 2005 08:36 PM
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