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« Pitch-perfect Cameron impresses | Main | ‘Modernise and die’ warns new Tory group »

Comments

Watlington

There are some important points here and Mr Rifkind does have some good qualities.

Yet it is a shame that his standard bearer Mr Blunt, was the man who showed extreme disloyalty to Mr Iain Duncan Smith. Mr Blunt chose to step down as Opposition Spokesman and called on IDS to resign after the polls had closed during the 2003 local elections.He did this at around 10pm live on TV, on election night. This caused great discomfort to the thousands of party activists who had just got home from having canvassed and knocked on doors to get the vote out.Hardly a morale booster. Obviously to Mr Blunt's surprise - and disappointment -
the Party did extremely well and won up to 700 extra seats and IDS was not topppled at this time.

Mr Blunt is also strongly unsympathetic towards the state of Israel and has identified himself with the more hardline Palestinian cause. Indeed, after a speech IDS had made which supported Israel's stance against terror, Mr Blunt went to see IDS and stated how outraged he was by IDS's speech.

Mr Rifkind is rightly seen as loyal and statesmanlike. His choice of campaign manager however weakens his candidacy considerably.Is Mr Rifkind saying he supports major acts of disloyalty? Is he saying that he has sympathy with the strongly Arabist views of Mr Blunt?

Watlington

Steven Patrick

Re disloyalty, it could be worse, you could have Mr Conway as your cheerleader...

Mark O'Brien

Rifkind certainly has a lot going for him, but surely he is too much a part of the past. I've heard him referred to as 'Michael Howard-lite' and it's not hard to reason why.

What's more, if he has unmatched political judgement, am I being unfair in asking whether it's more curious than not how he managed to slip out of the House of Commons for eight years?

Derek

I am sure Sir Malcolm Rifkind does have some very good qualities. He is an excellent debater and speaks with great authority in the House and elsewhere, but in this televisual age has he got the right image?

It is sad that we have to put such things to the fore, but I'm afraid that we must, because we have universal suffrage and a lot of voters are persuaded by such shallow matters as voice, and appearance.

It is not enough to be simply very good in debate and have an outstanding grasp of the facts. We now require that indefinable and rare extra called charisma. Our next man has to have more of it than Gordon Brown.

James Hellyer


What makes you think that Sir Malcolm Rifkind will be any better at attracting back former Conservative voters than Michael Howard has been?

Immediatly after the election, Newsnight was describing him as "a Michael Howard Tribute Band." Really that's all he is - another Major era retread, but with rather less obvious achievments than Michael Howard.

Shouldn't we move on from the Major era and look to the future?

Mark O'Brien

"We now require that indefinable and rare extra called charisma."

Derek, you're right about that, but what I'm about to say shouldn't be taken as a defence of Malcolm Rifkind:

Who does have charisma? David Cameron is an unimpressive and hardly captivating speaker who has come out of Eton probably with a lot of manners and niceness, but at the expense of having any of the feistiness in him that a leader needs. David Davis still looks meek and small in front of the cameras. I'm fed up of hearing about his ever-broken nose or about having served a weekend warrior with the TA. It seems as though he's fairly slack and weak in political debate - that's where he needs to be a warrior! David Willetts will never be thought of as being overtly charismatic, but we don't really expect that from him - he has a different raison d'etre!

I still don't think anybody stands out as being particularly impressive as far as charisma is concerned.

Peter Littleton

At this point in time the Conservative Party needs to take a gamble. After the removal of IDS I accept that what the Party needed to do was to find a leader who could sure up the position that we were in, and make sure that our problems didn't translate into electoral oblivion. Step forward Michael Howard, who did everything promised and probably a little more. However, he was a safety candidate, a man who could be relied upon to competetently guide us through a difficult period, but was never likely to lead us all the way back to Government.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind would indeed be the same again. But that isn't what we need. We need to take a risk on electing someone who isn't a 'sure - fire' thing, but then again just might be.

And the same could be said of Rifkind's One Nation agenda. Its been done before, it may even attract a few disillusioned Labou votes, but it is never going to inspire people in a way that will bring them back to us en mass. Essentially at its core is the idea of a priviledged over class, on whose benevolence the lower orders come to rely on. Replace this priviledged over class with the Government and 'voila', Blairism is re born.

To get back to Government we need to inspire people, not patronise them. People from modest backrounds who manage the climb into a better situation what to do it on their own merits, not to be told that they couldn't have done it without the help of someone above them.

Governments should remove walls, not place ladders!

Editor

I agree with most of what you write, Peter, but would add two important qualifications:

(1) 33% of the electorate seem pretty committed to us because of where we stand on crime, Europe, tax etc. Many more voters agree with our positions on these issues but don't vote Conservative because we don't pass an 'acceptability test'. The people we need to get from 33% to 44% of the vote want our core beliefs rooted in the finest one nation traditions of the Conservative Party and it is enormously encouraging that all of the candidates and Sir Malcolm has been particularly consistent at this - are trying to rejuvenate one nation conservatism.

(2) You are right on getting rid of the "walls" that stop people lifting themselves up but we also need a conservatism for (a) those who are very broken (because of addictions or long-term unemployment/ homelessness) and may therefore need extra help (not necessarily directly from government but govt-supported charities) and (b) also we need a conservatism for those who can't help themselves - the mentally ill, the chronically sick, the very elderly... Conservatives are better at talking about helping people to help themselves - not always so good at talking about helping people who can't help themselves. And I mean the "talking" bit. Funnily enough - in govt - we had an OK poverty-fighting record. But we kept our light under a bushel and that's not always a clever thing to do politically!

carol

Have we not had enough Scots? before anyone accuses me of racism I am a Scot, living in England, and I cannot understand why English people are not up in arms about the very unfair devolution 'settlement'. Riffkind is good and deserves a high position in any future Cabinet, but leader - no thanks. I favour David Davies at the moment, I think he is appearing quiet so he doesn't frighten the horses before getting elected. I lived through all this 'one nation' nonsense and the country just got worse until another outsider, Mrs. T, turned it round. Gordon Brown's image is increasingly tarnished, see the business online today, and the next Government is going to inherit a mess so we better get it right.

Barry Graham

I’d love Rifkind to be Tory prime minister because I think he’d be decent and honourable and has both gravitas and the kind of intellect somewhat like David Davis could only dream of.
Alas, like a lot of Labour voters who’d have preferred to have had Kinnock or Smith (had he lived) as their PM, but had to compromise on Blair to get elected, I suspect it may take more of a telegenic figure to win over the missing 10 -12 per cent of voters we need back.
Ironically, these floating voters (by definition in the middle ground) are those most likely to be satisfied by a moderate Rifkind Premiership - yet, I suspect, in this image-obsessed era, less likely to vote for him in the first place. (As a Scot, it saddens me to admit, that you English may well have had enough of Scots politicians of whatever hue.)
Incidentally, Mark, you are being unfair in asking why he’s been out of parliament for eight years.
In 1997, like all 11 Scots Tory MPs he lost his marginal-ish seat in the Labour landslide.
To his immense credit, he opted, in 2001, to try to regain Edinburgh Pentlands - as he had promised to do four years earlier - rather than carpet-bag a safe Home Counties seat straight away.
It was only when he narrowly failed again, that he put sentiment aside and looked south.
In short, Rifkind is a statesman but, I fear, he's the right man at the wrong time.
That being the case, it has to be Cameron - charisma, coupled with a realisation of the enormity of the task we face to win again.
David Davis has a great narrative but - and I hope I'm wrong - I fear he's just another right winger who will struggle to appeal beyond the core vote.

Mark O'Brien

"Incidentally, Mark, you are being unfair in asking why he’s been out of parliament for eight years..."

You're right. I concede that one! And for what it's worth, I agree with everything that you've said there. That's probably the best conclusion we can make: Rifkind is very good, but he's missed his chance.

Derek

Whoever replaces Michael Howard will struggle while the economy continues to perform as it has been. As soon as that situation changes we will see an improvement in our fortunes. I agree that at the moment no one looks the complete article. Mind you this was said about Margaret when she was first elected leader.

I guess we will have to choose the best on offer, and hope for the best. Like Carol and Barry I am a bit prejudiced against Scots, so I think it looks like David Davis is the best bet.

Wat Tyler

Derek- you talk a lot of sense Sir. Both on the choice of leader and member voting. I hope your fellow Chairmen are similarly minded.

Editor

C'mon guys - stop being so horrible to the Scots! Dr Fox and Sir Malcolm deserve to be judged on their merits - not their home country.

"Like Carol and Barry I am a bit prejudiced against Scots, so I think it looks like David Davis is the best bet."
Sorry to sound pedantic Derek, but let me be clear I'm not prejudiced against Scots — I am one. I merely detect it (ruefully) among many English voters. If I can be playfully provocative, the disproportionate number of Scots in exalted positions, not just in politics but in the fields of medicine, science, the media etc, owes more to our latent initiative, talent and enterprise than positive discrimination. In fact, it beats me why more of us aren't Tories!
Also, I can't agree with you on DD being the man — although, I will support him 100 per cent if or when he wins the leadership.
We've got to get away from picking who WE would like as Tory leader and picking who is most likely to win us an election.
That means reforming and winning the middle ground back and David Cameron seems most aware of this and equipped to do it.

James Hellyer

"C'mon guys - stop being so horrible to the Scots!"

I didn't here Conservatives complaining about how unfair it was when we governed Wales and Scotland using English votes...

Barry Graham

‘I didn't here Conservatives complaining about how unfair it was when we governed Wales and Scotland using English votes...’
Very magnanimous of you, James. Although a few of us were very grateful you spared us the ravages of unreconstructed socialism during the Eighties.

Wat Tyler

James- I could point out that was because we English pay for Scotland and Wales, so it's only fair we should rule them. But let me just agree with Ed that we certainly shouldn't be beastly to any leadership contenders purely on the basis of ethnicity (although come to think of it, isn't Cameron a Scottish name?)

James Hellyer

"Very magnanimous of you, James."

Very Unionist of me ;=)

One thing I would like these potential leaders to tell us, is how they plan to deliver a Conservative comeback in Scotland and Wales.

Our general election campaign spoke only to the English (take the council tax policy, for example). We've already got the Scottish party wanting to its own way on taxes...

So what overall message will a new leader try and sell (bearing in mind that devolution makes some subjects like health and education moot)?

Matt

Sorry all you Rifkind fans out there, but your man's past it. He's had a charisma bypass operation and is also bald. This means that most people will never vote for him, no matter how quaint some of you find his "scholarly Scottish lawyer's lilt".

Rifkind cannot win and must not win and you should get over it and persuade him not to run and make a fool out of himself by getting 10 votes and going out in the first round (maybe the 2nd round if Alan Duncan reconsiders and stands)

So who DO we go for for the charisma and personality?

Cameron: Charming, telegenic and would appeal to swing voters and women. However, could appear a bit managerialist (Blue Labour anyone?) and may not have the big vision to inspire a big turnaround in our fortunes.

Davis: Has a ruthless streak that some of the more sadistic voters (those who voted for Maggie and Bliar but didn't really like them) may go for. People like a strong leader as politics in Britain is getting more presidential. He also has a good narrative and could really set out a vision of what the Tory party is all about and how we intend to make Britain better. However, he also has an image as a right-wing nutter in some sections of the liberal media. Not a problem in itself, but if some of the agenda around improving the lot of the poor and modernising the party's policies don't work at first, it could be back to more immigrant-bashing and EU-baiting.

I happen to think that Davis DOES understand the necessity to broaden our appeal and so will stick to an agenda of making conservatism relevant to modern Britain (in 2001, wasn't DAVIS the modernising candidate?). Added to some of the favourable urban myth surrounding his narrative and his hard-man image, he could be the man to beat Broon. Davis for me.

Ant

I actually don't really agree with Matt - and earlier comments - on the charisma front.

I just don't think that any of the current candidates have the charisma of Gordon Brown (and that's saying something).

As I also think that, in an election campaign, relative charisma is more important than absolute (ie the man with the most charisma gets the charisma vote, pretty much regardless of how close the other chap is), I think it would be a mistake just to choose the Conservative contender with the most charisma.

If we accept that GB cannot be matched on this value, we'll end up with a far more interesting contest. I honestly believe that elections can still be won with visions of a better future. It is undoubtedly true that charisma helps to sell a vision but it's not the only way of doing it.

So we should really listen to what the different contenders are actually saying they will offer the country, rather than being hung up on the way they say it.

The Political Thinker

Firstly, I have to agree with the Editor. A leader shouldn't be chosen simply because he's not Scottish – Just now you'll be back to the days of choosing someone because he isn't someone else, and that did no good. The next leader should be chosen on merit alone – Anyway, having said that, Dr Liam Fox seems to be British first, and Scottish second.

Secondly, in regards to Rifkind ... He's a good and honest man – a real gentleman. But as leader? I'm not entirely sure. The problem with one nation conservatives – like Rifkind – is that they've become associated with being pro-Europe (as opposed to pro-America), as well as not being in favour of large tax cuts and decreases in public spending.

I've no doubt the population as a whole would prefer Rifkind to Davis. He has all the qualities that Davis lacks. However, I don't think his policies are the right ones for this country at this time. Regardless though, he is getting a bit on, especially at nearly 60. I'm beginning to think it may be better electing someone no older than 50.

Whoever replaces Michael Howard will struggle while the economy continues to perform as it has been. As soon as that situation changes we will see an improvement in our fortunes.

Excuse me? Britain's economy is in a terrible state (and has been for some time, although unfortunately no one in the Conservative Party has picked up on this, or was too afraid to say anything). Growth is down, inflation is up, taxes are up. We're no longer an attractive country for businesses to set up shop. The public sector is so fat it's unbelievable, and public spending is growing at an outrageous level. Not only that but taxes are so complicated no one understands them, it's questionable as to whether the Chancellor himself does!

The one thing I agree with Cornerstone – that new socially conservative group – is how Michael Howard was too timid on tax cuts. Most of the time his “tax cuts” weren't that at all, rather postponing a tax hike until a later date.

Personal income tax must come down, as well as corporate tax. Public spending should not be increased above current levels – I think it would actually be beneficial to reduce public spending. The Conservative Party must say they will get a control of public sector inflation – which is now 75% higher than private sector inflation, meaning for every extra £1, a whopping 75p is wasted. Hundreds – even thousands – of civil servants can go and get real jobs. And a lot of civil servants are paid way too much for what they do.

Not to forget, it would be very beneficial to leave the European Union. And I'm not even taking into account how much we'd save by not paying Brussels every year, I'm talking about the benefits to our businesses (less bureaucracy), the fact we would be able to regulate our own food prices, and so on. Food is 80% higher than what it should be due to the European Union.

Ray Davies

"Regardless though, he is getting a bit on, especially at nearly 60. I'm beginning to think it may be better electing someone no older than 50"

Malcolm Rifkind is 59 (60 in 2006) and David Davis is 56 (57 in December).

James Hellyer


Then they are both overdue for the ritual of the Carousel...

Graeme Archer

I've just enjoyed reading through all these comments... about the Scots thing: is it still OK for Scots to post here? Assuming yes ... someone asked why more Scots aren't Tories? I think plenty of us are - we just can't stand living in the socialist republic north of the border, so we move down here!

Malcolm Rifkind is a wonderful politician - he was my hero when scottish secretary in the 80s; I had never been actually moved by a speech until I heard him speak extempore at the Perth conference. However I don't think he's right for leader. He would be a brilliant front bench spokesman under someone like David Cameron who could use his experience to offset any comments about his (Cameron's) (relative) youth.

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