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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: Forget Cornish pasties. Forget Jerry cans. It's more likely than not that Israel will strike Iran.

Volatile is a word often used by political commentators and indeed political scientists. Latinate and polysyllabic, it sounds thoughtful, academic. The plain English translation was supplied by Harold Wilson: "A week is a long time in politics". Weeks have rarely come more volatile than the past few days.

Let us start with Mr Galloway. He invoked God so often that one is forced to an inescapable conclusion. The House of Commons now has its first Hizbollah MP (the word means party of God). So will the Almighty acquire more adherents? That will depend on the political demography of other Northern cities. There may be more Bradford Wests ripe for exploitation. On one point, however, Ed Miliband can feel safe. It is extremely unlikely that the catsuit man will realise his fantasy of spreading his message to the white working class. There is not much appeal in a programme of no alcohol, sweets for Saddam Hussein and an extreme reluctance to condemn Islamic terrorism.

But we should not draw comfort from that. The only way of mitigating racial tensions in this country is integration on the basis of mutual respect. The Bradford result does nothing to assist that. So Tories tempted to gloat over Labour's defeat should think again - and get ready to act. If they but knew it, a lot of the Muslims who voted for the wrong sort of respect last Thursday have much in common with the Tory party. They believe in family values and hard work. There should be no problem in persuading them of the need for an economic recovery based on sound public finances. Although there are difficulties over Iraq and Afghanistan, Tories should take those issues head on, not forgetting to mention Kosovo. The removal of Saddam and the Taleban not only offered the prospect of democracy. It also sowed the seeds of the Arab Spring. Why should other Muslims not enjoy the freedom to vote, as in Bradford?

I am not saying that this would be an easy case to make, but there is nothing to be gained by apologising. We should treat Muslims with proper respect by arguing vehemently when we disagree. Labour have always been good at patronising coloured immigrants and assuming that it can count on their votes. When there are declarations of independence, Labour politicians do not know how to respond. Their demoralisation should be the Tories' opportunity. The party's core message should be: "We know that you have minds of your own".

The Tories could use a few opportunities right now. There has been a bizarre combination of bad luck, misjudgments and marginal calls. Take petrol. Suppose the government had done nothing and a strike had taken place over Easter, mucking up millions of families' plans. Ministers would have been denounced for being out of touch. But some ministers went too far. There was no need to be drawn into jerry-cans et al. It should have been possible to make the point about preparedness without encouraging panic. That said, the blame should lie where it belongs: on the unions, who were threatening to strike, and on Ed Milipede, who lacks the moral courage either to condemn them - or to support them, if that is what he believes.

That brings us to the next point. How corrupt are the Tories' financial arrangements? There is a simple answer: wholly uncorrupt. Rich men have the chance to meet the Prime Minister and express their views. What is wrong with that? They are the sort of people whom party leaders ought to be meeting. In the early Nineties, a certain amount of mockery was devoted to Labour's "prawn cocktail offensive", a process in which senior Labour figures went round City boardrooms. Wise Tories would have been well-advised to restrain their laughter. Those meetings were a danger signal. Labour was in pursuit of electability.

These days, it is more likely to be a beer and sandwiches offensive: Labour in pursuit of money; the union leaders, of policies. There is nothing corrupt about this danse macabre. Corruption implies covertness, and the Left-wing unions are entirely open. They put their man in; they now wish to control him. There is no Tory equivalent. There has never been cash for policies; there never will be. Everyone should calm down. That applies a fortiori to Tory MPs, and indeed ministers. In the 1980s, during one of the Liberal party's regular crises, David Steel suggested to his fellow Liberals that they should not approach every problem with an open mouth. Tories greeted that with a patronising chuckle, which turned out to be somewhat premature. On many occasions over the past 25 years, many Tories ought to have taken Lord Steel's advice. and the same is true today. 

Corrective measures should be taken. Partly because key individuals have been immersed in questions of substance, presentation has been neglected. There ought to be more discipline, more coordination, in order to ensure that the choir are all singing the right hymn. The Tories have two great assets: economic competence, and leadership. Neither has been seriously threatened by the recent degringolade. Neither will be, unless there is an impression of panic.

That leads to a final point, which is even more important than Cornish pasties. Over the last week, I have spoken to three people who both realistic and well-informed on matters pertaining to the Muddle East. In the past, they have proved reliable. They all think it more likely than not that the Israelis will take military action against Iran before the US elections.

So if you have stashed away the odd jerry-can, it might still prove useful...


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