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Hague a great guy and superb in debate who was foolish to take over the helm in 1997. I don't think anyone could have rescued us then.
IDS, obviously decent, principled.Poor in debate,not always a good judge of people and I'm told, a poor manager. Found his niche now but probably should never have been leader.
Howard, ruthless, professional and very tough. Probably would have done better against any normal opponent. Unfortunately he was up against Blair the supreme actor/manager.Didn't expose Blair for the lies he told and was undone by Hutton.Fought a poor campaign in 2005,would have done better in my opinion if he'd acknowledged the mistake of supporting the Iraq war.
Probably Hague was the best parliamentarian, IDS the best man.

Hague as he saved us from oblivion. He made the best of a very bad hand of cards.
Not IDS as even though he has defined the compelling broken society policy platform and set that in motion as leader - he was a weak leader and reviled in the media
Not Howard as even though he is a really good guy, he should have done better given NuLabs problems with Iraq, spin and sleaze at the last election. I'm not sure he was hungry enough?

Hague - inherited the party at the worst time in its history. Bright man, personable and now popular but not then. 'Come with me and I'll give you back your country' remains an utterly shocking and disgraceful speech.


IDS - he didnt just 'struggle' with the parliamentary party, he was pitied by huge swathes. The public at large had no idea who he was (and still don't). A disaster.


Howard - class act in terms of performance. I remember his leadership election speech as so refreshing after the turmoil of IDS. However, he had a control-freakery nature which poisoned his time at the helm. The public could never warm to him. However, he set in motion events which have led to Cameron's 8 points lead.


I have always believed that William Hague was the best Conservative Prime Minister we never had. A sad case of "too far too soon".

I have also long believed he would be the next Conservative Prime Minister. Despite the new found confidence in the leadership I am still not wholly convinced that I am wrong.

Howard without doubt, possibly Hague was too young at the time, Smith just didn't cut it.

Cameron is the best leader since Thatcher, and if you exclude her probably the most potential since the war.

To be honest I'm a fan of Hague. At least he has some real experience of the business world from his time with McKinsey. He had a grounded, real-worldy appeal which IDS completely lacked.

Michael Howard always seemed too ivory-towerish for my tastes, and somehow I always felt IDS had a greater underlying allegiance to his roman-catholicism than to his UK PLC party-role.

Some ramblings..

Hague was a good commons performer, but too often allowed Blair to portray himself as the statesman and Hague as the point-scoring 'tory boy' college debater. I remember his shadow cabinet being dominated by big characters like Portillo and Ann Widdecombe. I also remember despite his obvious intelligence the general perception of him being as an easily ridiculed oaf. His political rehabilitation has been fantastic, and he genuinely does seem to have come out of the whole thing a well-liked public figure. And his firm stance on Europe makes him an invaluable member of the shadow cabinet for me. I just wonder as he gains profile whether the public will remember all the things they disliked about him, or whether the sting has truly gone once and for all.

IDS was an unmitigated disaster for me. Unfortunately he wasn't cut out for it; he showed no ability to reinvent himself to adjust to his new role. His speeches and PMQs performances were dire, there really is no other word for them. That awful frog in the throat makes me cringe. He seems a genuinely nice man though, and he deserves the plaudits from his current work.

Howard was brilliant. He healed the party. Would have made a fabulous Prime Minister, and I was gutted beyond belief when we lost the election so heavily. I never expected us to win, but I was hoping for gains of 60 or over. I remember the campaign starting so very well too, but things just seemed to stall a week or so in, and the polls just would not budge. It was a sophisticated and well run campaign, and I still can't see how Labour managed to defeat it so decisively -which is presumably why Alastair Campbell is a world class spin doctor and I'm not. I mean, posters depicting Howard as Fagin? How did that strike a chord? I know for there to be substantial shifts in voting there usually has to be severe economic downturn, but you'd still have thought we could have picked up so many more marginals. I suppose at the end of the day the public did not warm to Howard as a prospective Prime Minister, which I find a great shame. Maybe if we'd got rid of Duncan-Smith sooner, he could have had more time to develop his reputation as leader. If I remember rightly he had a very good record in the Commons against Blair. I'd love to see him go up against Brown -he'd swat him like a fly.

So Howard for me. I'd actually take Howard over Cameron, although I do like Cameron and think he's doing a great job.

Howard by a mile.

Had to wrestle with IDS disastrous Iraq legacy, professionalised the Party and achieved a better result than anybody expected in 2005 in contrast to Hague in 2001.

Howard's policy agenda is also much closer to the present policy agenda than IDS's. Very little has been altered since 2005 election.

Different people, different circumstances, different strengths.

Both Hague and Howard took over at desperate times, IDS was a surprise.

I am genuinely of the view that IDS has made a far-reaching and tremendous impact on the politics of the party and is to be applauded for that. That does not however mean he was a great leader, if only because he could not bring loyalty from parliamentary colleagues.

Howard was a good man, but he was always held back and blighted by his associations with the past Conservative governments that people did not want to hear about again.

Hague is still the person that very large numbers of non-political voters still speak about with high regard. I cannot put my finger on what it was he did to get this level of respect but it is pretty impressive that after six years away from the leadership he is the person still talked about affectionately.

Good leadership is not always about what you do, but about how your leadership is respected after you have gone.

Howard was surely the most successful of the three on the basis that more people in England voted Tory than Labour at the 2005 election. He was a vital bridge and the party was lucky to have him. Had Howard not taken on the task, who else would the Tories have been able to turn to?? And consider how one of the central planks of his '05 campaign is now the (acceptable) issue of the day: immigration. Of course, it's a travesty that Howard, the son of Jewish immigrants, was somehow branded racist and intolerant for raising this in the first place.
Hague was a front man, albeit a very good one, who's probably nearing his best only now. He was put forward far too early, his talents squandered.
As for IDS, nice guy but never leadership material. He only got the gig because Hague changed the party's leadership election rules as soon as he was in post in '97 in order to safeguard his own position. What a mess the last 10 years have been...

I suspect that Hague will kick himself to his dying day that he peaked too soon. If he had stayed in the shadow cabinet and raised his public profile in the way that he has, his current popularity would make him a cert for leader. Sadly, in the aftermath of 1997 when the old guard still believed that the public would wake up to their "mistake" in electing Labour, he had a hopeless task. It should have been Clarke.

When Hague nobly fell on his sword, the leadership was handed to a man of honour and principle, but without the skills to lead a discontented uncompliant army. Up against Blair, he struggled to play his own hand and that of a party not yet trusted by the electorate. Again, it should have been Clarke.

Howard - realising the problem, he professionalised the party and realised that shoring up our safe seats and core vote was not the way back to power. I don't think anyone expected much from Michael Howard, which is why he gets my vote...he far exceeded anyone's expectations in terms of electoral success and his dealings with Labour and the public. The party owes him a great deal.

Whilst I want to say Hague, I'm going to say Howard. Hague is a formidable politician, who brings immeasurable talent to the Conservative Party. However, his Leadership was premature, for reasons I need not expain here. On the contrary, Howard - a senior and respected member of the Party - was well placed, at the right time, bringing the right qualities to a Party in need. He gave the Party focus, hope, a defined sense of purpose, and the determintation needed for an effective Tory revival, lead by David Cameron. Michael Howard, in short, placed the needs of the party high and above any personal ambition he had of his own.

Hague: His victories were to have kept the party together and to have helped preserve the pound sterling...an alternative universe with Clarke as Tory leader could have made it easier for Blair to steamroller us into the single currency in '97/'98.

IDS: As almost everyone has observed - nice guy, should never have been the leader, but his thoughtful brand of compassionate conservatism will be one of the intellectual underpinnings of the next Tory Government.

Howard: Legacy was ultimately in the improvement in the party's position in the marginals to make the next election (just) winnable and the long leadership election that allowed his protege Cameron to shine. His '05 election speeches seem to have been cribbed by one G Brown, who denounced them as far right nonsense as the time.

The best? Very difficult. Probably Howard by a nose....

"Of course, it's a travesty that Howard, the son of Jewish immigrants, was somehow branded racist and intolerant for raising this in the first place."

That would be the appalling "It's not racist.." ads.

Truly, mind-numbingly stupid framing of the issue.

Hmm. In terms of leadership, Howard narrowly beats Hague. I think IDS' principles are great, but he isn't a leader. In terms of who would be the best Prime Minister, I think Howard wins by a strong margin. Where do I place Cameron in this? As a leader, the best of the four. As Prime Minister, I think Howard would be better than Cameron.

Howard without a doubt.

-Very professional, tough and competent, brought order after the storm. He's the only one of the three I could've imagined being PM in some sort of alternate history.

-His serious, patriotic and no-nonesense approach was so refreshing next to Blair's spin- it's what got me into politics and made me a Conservative.

-He gave the party enough time to realise that David Cameron was the best choice for the next leader. Therefore, if we win the next election, he should be given some of the credit for laying the foundations.

Unfortunately Howard was seen as old fashioned next to Blair and he didn't have an election-winning "Vision" for Britain. I would blame this on the incredibly short time he had to prepare for the election. If you re-listen to his first speech as leader it's quite clear that he aspired to a far broader and one-nation programme than he managed to achieve.

Nevertheless, he's my favourite leader and one of my political heroes! Howard for next Tory Lord Chancellor!

Why all this respect for Michael Howard?

He ran a campaign of little ideas. He had no vision for the country. His asylum policy was a disgrace.

He was personally nasty - just ask Howard Flight and Danny Kruger.

He tried to take away the votes of party members in choosing his successor.

2005 was an election in which we should have done much, much better.

It is a clear toss-up between Hague and Howard, I think both suffered from timing in equal ways. Howard was clearly past his prime when he acceded, Hague was clearly a mite too soon. IDS I think was a better leader than he is yet given credit for, he lacked the 'star-quality' necessary in a modern leader but that was all really. I think however the quality of the three is that they still promote the conservative cause in their way. Hague in the top team, IDS giving the weight of policy and Howard popping up from time to time as the 'elder statesman'. The party has been well served by all three, however straying off point slightly I don't think the party would have been where it is today had it not been for someone who failed to become leader at all but is probably critical in ensuring the conservative coalition hangs together - David Davis.

Howard squandered millions on pathetic election campaigns in 2004 (EU) and 2005 (GE). As a result, we moved out of Smith Square and had to sell it. A massive price to pay for the vanity of a pathetic numpty!

I agree with Jennifer. Michael Howard was a terrible leader. IDS at least tried to change the Conservative party. His leadership with its emphasis on public services and the vulnerable was a taste of what Cameron has also done.
Howard abandoned all of IDS' work and ran another core vote campaign that lifted us by only 2 or 3 percent in the polls.

I also hold Howard responsible for the bungled move out of Smith Square and all of that borrowing.
Remember the shadow cabinet of 12 that he formed? Didn't last because it was unworkable.
He had no message on tax or the economy.
He was not a nice man and the public knew that.

Hague by a mile! It was just unfortunate that as somebody else has already said he "peaked too soon". Possibly his time will come again at some stage in the future.

Probably Howard, as he ended up with a rather more stabilized party that produced a good leader to succeed him. Hague is undoubtedly talented, but it was too soon and the wrong time. In fact, someone who did what Howard had to do due to IDS was probably necessary. IDS was an unmitigated disaster and probably set back the party a couple of years, leading to a disappointing 2005 result.

Whatever IDS's shortcomings as a leader (and do not underestimate the treacherous onslaught he faced at every turn) his ongoing contribution to the party's renewal eclipses that of either Hague or Howard).

I'm voting for Iain Duncan Smith.

In third place: Hague. Our William was good but the 2001 campaign on keeping the pound was too narrow. His manifesto for that election contained no new ideas. With a little help from Michael Howard he rescued the party from bankrupty after Major's scorced earth spending at the 1997 election.

In second place: Michael Howard. A great Home Secretary but a throwback leader. Too angry. Too negative.

In first place: IDS. He had the right agenda if the party had been loyal but he was undermined from day one. He also saved us from Clarke and Portillo. I'll always be grateful for that.

Despite the flaws of the 2005 election campaign, the party owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Howard. As others have said, he was able to unite the party and provide it with a sense of discipline and direction that it had not had for many years. It is so easy to forget just how dire the IDS years were for the party and critics of Howard usually fail to put his achievements in this context.

Howard must have known that in the short time available he would not be forming a government after the next election. His leadership aim was to put the Conservatives back into contention and lay the groundwork for a future victory. In 2005 Tories began winning back seats and making headway in others. It was also his idea to showcase the different leadership contenders in the 2005 party conference which led to Cameron being the clear winner.

Hague and IDS were enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq war. They believed the lies of Blair, Bush and the neo-cons in Washington.

Anyone with real knowledge of Iraq and WMD would have known that the dossier was dodgy and that there was insufficient preparation due to the amateurs in the White House and Pentagon. Howard realised too late.

At least Dave has learned from their huge foreign policy mistakes.

It's a sign of the Tories' lack of success since 1992 that Michael Howard's 200 or so seats at the last election is considered a success of sorts. As to who was best, who cares? It should have been Clarke in 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2005. Clarke differs with the party on Europe but he's always been right on the economy and he was one of lone Tory voices to get it right on Iraq. In 2005, I'm convinced a popular, blokeish leader who opposed the Iraq War would have beaten Blair. Instead the party chose Michael 'Something of the Night' Howard. What were you thinking?

Hague came across as too young and inexperienced to be a PM at the time; sad really, as he comes across well as a shadow minister now. However, his role in keeping Britain out of the Euro should not be understated.

IDS never really shone until he stopped being leader.

Howard managed to start to turn things round, with very little time although he did make a couple of gaffs, such as Hutton.

Whoever thought it a good idea, Hague lead the the appalling 'Save the pound' 2001 election campaign, which got us absolutely no-where. If he had waited to lead the party things could have been very different. IDS is a decent person, and has probably now found his best way to serve the party with excellent policy reports, rather than being leader. The connection between the two is that both of them beat Ken Clarke - the man the party could never bring itself to elect leader, but would certainly have been an excellent Leader of the Oppostion in the dark days after 1997 IF the party could have got over its European obsession.

Howard was the right man at the right time to steady the ship after IDS. In my opinion the Hague and IDS periods delayed a Tory recovery, which would have occured under Clarke IF the party had been capable of showing him loyalty and unity.

IDS. I didn't want him as leader - indeed I thought it a disastrous (indeed *ridiculous*) decision by our MPs to put him forward in place of Portillo. And I also think he had to go when he did - he'd never had the confidence of the MPs in the first place (it was and remains a daft electoral system).

Nonetheless, (A) Hague utterly failed to redefine what the Conservative Party was for in the age of New Labour and led us to a disastrous election defeat at an election that I believe we could have won (2001); (B) Howard, although the right man to take over in 2003 and someone that did an okay caretaker job didn't materially advance our image or policy programme - indeed his five slogans in 2005 left us looking as bereft of ideas as we were in 2001, despite the very considerable work that IDS' team had done from 2001 to 2003; (C) Though I hadn't liked him, though he didn't take us where I think we should have gone, and though he gained no voter credit for it, IDS did considerably redefine our policy position on domestic issues between 2001 and 2003, considerably influencing the positive (though, again, not in the way I would have preferred) developments later under Cameron.

Easily the worst was IDS. His most grievous mistake was over the Iraq war when he identified the party too closely with the US position, despite the warnings of Clarke, Major and Rifkind. He should have probed Blair to explain the inconsistencies in the intelligence dossiers and asked about the post-invasion strategy. This rendered us unable to exploit Labour’s weakness in 2005 and left the Libdems with a free run on the issue.
Remember Howard had to be drafted in to fire-fight. He brought some much needed discipline and professionalism into the 2005 election. To my mind our recovery started with Howard. His greatest gift to the party was to so arrange his departure that Cameron had the time to emerge, show his mettle and win the leadership election. I would rate him as the best of the three.

I really think that in time people will see the Conservative revival that we hope we see beginning now [touch wood!] as belonging to Michael Howard.

That we were daft enough to elect IDS to our leadership must go down as one of our historically savvy party's greatest political errors. If Howard had taken over the reins straight from Hague, I really think he might even have had enough of a run-up to make significant gains in 2005. As it was, Howard knew from day one that he was a caretaker, and set about transforming the party organisation and grooming the right newcomers. For that we should all be thankful.

IDS is doing great work now in the sphere of social justice. But a Conservative commitment to social justice was not his original idea, contrary to what some would have us believe, and as leader his failure to convey our commitment to it was total. He could have been far more useful concentrating on that sort of portfolio back in 2001 instead of being elected leader.

Howard was a true pro - a man with a real vision for a reduced-state Britain, an excellent parliamentarian, and he did excellent work restoring discipline to the shadow team and to CCHQ.

Howard. Brought some steel and spine to the party again. For the first time we were spoken of as contenders once more. Dented the Labour majority. Made the party believe. Then, he left leaving/engineering the best possible legacy - an electable leader (Cameron, for the UKIP trolls...) given the platform from which to launch himself and the party towards Government.

I'd like to roll them all up into one super-leader

Michael Howard, but he let himself down - and the party - during the election campaign by constantly and loudly calling Blair a liar and trying to face both ways at once over Iraq. Whatever the justification and truth of the assertion on Liar Blair, the public did not like it. I certainly think that a number of marginal were not won by the narrowest of margins - such as Harlow - because voters abstained rather than switch to the Conservatives.
That said, Howard was head and shoulders above IDS - although wen he was axed, the Tories lead in the opinion polls - while Hague looked what he was: an untried Tory Boy up against New Labour at its most potent.

Howard was the most successful electorally, but that is probably because Labour had been in power for longer in his day.
I would personally say William Hague out of those three - at least the Conservatives didn't LOSE seats in the 2001 election as most polls were predicting.

I would go for Howard. He stopped us being a laughing stock.
He did a lot better at the election than people remember. He pushed all those seats into marginals which Labour were only recently, frantically polling. It was a very valuable legacy which we have already benefited from and may reap yet more rewards.
I believe he led us unselfishly. You may no always like what he did, but he always believed he was doing the right thing. At the time of the leadership conference, Nick Robinson commented that he was already being treated as if he had gone and he couldn't look happier about it. He has made a point of staying out of the way since, regardless of the pressure the current leadership have been under. Ann Treneman described him in today's Times as "still wonderfully creepy"!!!

Hague was the best leader but IDS has been the best ex-leader.

Howard's treatment of Howard Flight ruined my faith in him.

For me, Howard wins hands down - no contest!

Non of them were especially good because they failed to live up to their promise to reach out to new voters. Hague and Howard instead concentrated on core vote strategy. Howard was probably best though because he managed to recover a bit of lost ground, largely because of Lib Dem switches from Labour though. IDS just showed how obsessed the party had become over Europe.

I'm surprised everybody likes Hague. I rate him as the worst leader we've had in modern times.

-His party reform was disastrous. For example he gave us our current leadership election rules. He also gave us a near-unchangeable constitution, which is a complete disaster since we now have no institutional flexibility.
-His favoured back room staff were the present vacuous 'Lib-Dem Conservative' lot.
-He threw away hereditary peerage at the toss of a coin causing a significant split amongst our most gifted grandees which still hasn't healed (eg: Ashcroft and Salisbury).
-Worst of all he entrenched the policy of never aggressively going after labour, and allowed the labour spin machine to gain total control of the news agenda and cause a crisis of confidence in conservatism. The party was in good shape after the election in 1997, but it was an emotional wreck with no morale three years later.

IDS and Howard, on the other hand, were in my opinion very good.
Whatever people say, IDS was popular amongst non-conservative voters. He managed to do that whilst remaining properly conservative.
Howard was about a safe a pair of hands as you can get. That was very valuable to us in 2005 and we got more votes in England than Labour.

All three were good men and good leaders, and Cameron is another one. The aweful truth is that with the most dishonest, inept, and sleezy government anyone can remember, not one of those four has ever looked like displacing that government. Truth is that the electorate has reached the full development of democratic government, an electorate mainly Celtic socialist, benefits recipients, state employees, or grateful immigrants, the natural constituency of socialism. Since the end of monarchy it has always been clear that with time there would be permanent government by the redistribution of wealth to the have-nots. That day has arrived with government removed from Westminster to Brussels, and a well entrenched elite political class to pretend government.


What hurt the Conservatives most?

The EU and joining the ERM.

On past performances it has to be Michael. But if we were choosing one of these three to lead us now, it would have to be William.

Some pour scorn on William's "Save the Pound" campaign - but the Pound WAS saved.
William also democratised the Party - democracy which has since (shamefully) been taken away again.

I like Ian and like the work he is doing.
He should continue with it.

Howard by 10 000 miles!

He got us representation back in Wales...and WON the popular vote in England. Best Home Secretary we ever had...crime fell big time under him. The Party never knew peace for 20 years until he came along. Great on discipline too- ''Howard Flight will not be a candidate for this Party in a General Election''.

I think IDS was badly advised!


Hague, Hauge, Hauge when elected wrong time now the right time

Howard something of the night

People remember things differently I suppose. Personally apart from Theresa May's leopard skin shoes calling us 'the nasty party' (which I actually thought was quite good) I remember very little of Iain Duncan Smith's compassionate platform. Did he not revert to the same Hagueite policies when the going got tough?

I also can't believe that people are saying that Kenneth Clarke would have been a good idea. Marvellous heavyweight politician though he is, the man is wedded not only to the idea of the single currency, but I believe to the concept of world government. How many hilariously condescending drubbings of Tony Blair at the dispatch box or marginal seats gained in 2001 would it have been worth to see the single currency brought in? Thank God the party baulked at the idea, even to elect a charisma vacuum like IDS.

I rather liked Michael Howard's handwritten dog-whistle campaign literature. The 'not racist to impose limits on immigration' was rather crudely put, but then the general public is crude. I can't help but think it's not that which lost us the election. Personally I think it was the lack of personal apeal of Michael Howard, combined with the general sense of affluence among people which is only now beginning to wane.

Lets look at what leader inherited in terms of polls and how they left them to their successor (ICM Guardian poll.

Last three months of Major : 30% -18%, 34% -12%, 28% -19%
Last three months of Hague: 30% -16%, 30% -16%, 29% -17%
Last three months of IDS: 32% -5%, 30% -5%, 33% -5%
Last three months of Howard 31% -9%, 33% -3%, 33% -5%

Hague had no success in 4 years, IDS increased share a bit but drop in lead mostly due to Kennedy, Howard no improvement over IDS.

All three could claim to have held the core, IDS was never tested in election but looking at his period he was better than Hague and about same as Howard in polls and left his successor better placed than he had been when elected. I've always felt that personally he'd have been a more attractive leader at an election than Howard but probably not significantly more or less effective in winning votes.

Howard's success was internal - he managed (and more importantly the Two Davids managed) to transfer a stable party to his successor. He was a disappointment as a leader in opposing successfuly. Otherwise all three were much of a muchness and didn't manage to enthuse the abstainers or greatly interest the potential voters. A sad 10 years.

IDS all day long. Obviously I can only go on what you see of these people in the media, but I rate him ahead of Major, Maggie and Cameron as well as Hague and Howard-both on policy and gravitas.

The quiet man image used as an insult by his opponents actually appealed to me!

Hague's ridiculous Save the pound campaign can also never be mentioned enough. Especially the utter stupidity of only promising to stay out for one parliament -a complete failure to appreciate the value of firm rhetoric, and one that meant Hague was undermined by Thatcher of all people.

This is one of those questions with a right anser. And that answer is Michael Howard.

But more interesting to me, is the question about leader selection and the comments of Irish observer @16:49.

It seems very clear to me that the Conservative Party elected the wrong leader both in 1997 and in 2001. Hague was much too young and inexperienced in 1997. IDS, who is a decent man and may well turn out to be an excellent future Minister for Social Justice, simply didn't have the required capacities for the leadership in terms of his communications skill and, again, experience (never held government office!).

I am firmly on the right of the party. Back in 1997 a good friend of mine, a very loyal Thatcherite, was vocally supporting Kenneth Clarke for the leadership despite his strong euroscepticism. My friend was right. In 1997 Clarke should have led the party. Portillo wasn't available, Howard too unpopular as Home Secretary, Redwood simply implausible as leader and Hague too inexperienced. The only real argument against Clark was his pro-EU positions. Clarke was too proud to deal with this adequately. He should have made a deal with the party, i.e. that votes on EU treaties would be free votes under his leadership and that he recognized that he would be leading a eurosceptic party as a europhile. If Clarke had only been willing to make that deal, i.e. not make his leadership be ABOUT the EU, he could have been a very effective leader. He might even have won in 2001 or at least would have gained many more seats than Hague did, thus bringing in much needed talent on the front bench. Clarke's positions on the EU would not have mattered in practice whatsoever. The only treaty was the Treaty of Nice which Blair signed up to before the 2001 general election. Even if Clarke had won the elections, he would have ratified the Treaty, leaving us in exactly the same position as now. It's unlikely that even though Clarke would have been pro-euro, Brown would have led Britain into the euro.

In 2001, following Hague's leadership, IDS was definitely NOT the right candidate. He should never been on the final ballot. The 2001 leadership contest should probably have been between Portillo and Clarke. Either man would have been a very interesting leader. Personally, I like Portillo. He is very charismatic, intelligent and a good speaker. Unfortunately his loss in 1997 shook him to the core. If only he had survived that, he would have been the leader in 1997 and he may very well have done a great job. Unfortunately, his judgment seems to have been affected by the loss in 1997. Even so, he was a man of great talents and either he or Clarke should have led the party in 2001.

The Conservative Party paid a very heavy price for their wrong decisions. Luckily they came to their senses in 2003 and again elected the right man in 2005.

IDS would have been the best leader; apart from his social regeneration policies he would also have been a genuine Eurosceptic and have made headway in regaining our sovereignty from Brussels - proof being that he was one of a few that refused to vote for the Maastricht treaty, sold to Britain and swallowed by Major and the great majority of alleged Conservative MP's. He also set up a committee to investigate the running of the BBC. He was a politician of principle - a rarity - and his principles made him enemies with the lefties in his own party as well as among the shoal of feeding frenzy sharks, follow my leader, clueless hacks in the media.
Well, the media had its way and much of it is in tears because we are not going to get a referendum on the EU treaty (hands up all those that believe that Cameron or Hague will supply it?). Under IDS we would have had one. IDS made his mistake in failing to take a decisive hold of the party early on, but nevertheless he was a good man would have made an excellent leader and was foolishly hounded. As someone else has commented, he saved us from Portillo and Clarke. He unfortunately appeared on the scene when the media was still in love with project Blair.
Shame about Howard. He failed to realise that only England and the English could get him elected and when the EU said boo! He folded.

Watch this space . William Hague will be Prime Minister one day.

Hague by a mile, although he took over too soon. In 1997 & 2001 we had no chance whoever was leader.

If Howard had become leader in 1997, Hague would be PM now.

IDS was a laughing stock completely unsuitable for such a high profile role. Since standing down though, he has has done some excellent work.

Contrary to the emerging consensus, I thought IDS was a great leader who failed to get the loyalty he deserved. Sure, he was'nt the best in the commons, but does that really matter nowadays? As he has shown since being forced out he has a very profound coherent philosophy and real vocation in politics. Hague, Howard and Cameron lack an air of authenticity and real life experience for me.
It saddens me that in this ego driven, media obsessed world, it is harder than ever for substance to overcome spin.I really think that outside the narrow confines of Westminster and the chattering classes, IDS enjoyed strong and growing support. A pity we never let him fight the 2005 election. He would have done far better than most give him credit for.

I have a lot respect for all three on a personal level, I think Hague's the best parliamentarian, but Howard was probably the better morale raiser with classic one-liners at the Box every Wednesday.

Mr. Howard: Let me make it clear: this grammar school boy will take no lessons from that public school boy on the importance of children from less privileged backgrounds gaining access to university.


I vote for IDS. True he lost the confidence of his MPs, but that was treachery on their part. If he had kept their loyalty he could have gone on to achieve a much better result. The public would have warmed to him. Any leader has to have loyal troops who help to build their profile.

A sad story of disloyalty and ultimately betrayal. He kept Clarke out of the leadership and did a hugely important job.

You have to look at what each of the three had to deal with and bear in mind that we might have been out of power for quite a long time whoever we put up.

I think Hague was the best by a country mile. When he took control we had been almost completely annihilated. His job was several fold but primarily to save the party, which he did.

Of course he ran an almost single issue campaign (save the pound etc) but that was the only chance then - we had to ensure the core vote was kept and a clear message cut through the negative noise.

In addition to that he began to try and reform the party and showed he had deeper ideas and some innovative thoughts.

The Conservative Party both times could have done far better. William Hague appeared to despair towards the end of the 2001 campaign taking a low profile and leaving campaigning to Margaret Thatcher in the final days, he was the one hoping to form the government or play a major role as leader of a stronger opposition, with turnout of Labour supporters well down and with the Referendum Party having been disbanded then there was no reason that the party couldn't have run Labour much closer, maybe exceeding the Conservatives total number of votes in 1997 - the 270 seats he was hoping for should have been quite achievable, both 2001 and 2005 campaigns featured a timidity over suggesting that there might be additional efficiency savings that could be made although it has to be said that Michael Howard rather panicked and massively over-reacted.

IDS had presided over the development of a number of new policies, he was removed using a device that had been introduced with the intention of making leadership challenges very difficult, instead in a situation in which the parliamentary party had vindictive elements unable to accept that either Michael Portillo had not got into the final round or that Kenneth Clarke had lost in the final round, the confidence motion became a way of uniting the anti vote, if there had been a requirement for a confidence motion among party members as a whole it is unlikely IDS would have been removed.

Michael Howard abandoned all the policies for some slogans and his immigration policy was immediately torn apart from all sides because it had clearly not been thought out in that when it was pointed out that arrival of asylum seekers or someone with vital skills for a particular job could then push numbers admitted over the cap, or agreements supported by the Conservatives regarding asylum would have to be breached - it was then announced that such figures could be carried over, which rather brought into question how firm a commitment the fixed limit was.

From 2003 Labour were far weaker than at any time in the previous 10 years, the Opposition generally were somewhat lacking in substance and rather relied on government unpopularity to carry them through and it didn't work, there won't be such an opportunity for some time now.

I don't think there is much doubt that William Hague is clear in his mind that he never wants to be a Party Leader again, he has said so very firmly and clearly.

Are you the same Goldie (19.48) who has criticised Cameron again and again over the past 18 months and now thinks we elected 'the right man' in 2005?
If Cameron can win over someone like you he's doing very well indeed.

Howard was the best leader for 1997. Hague was the best leader for 2005.

Tory MPs in their infinite wisdom ensured exactly the opposite happened.

Hague should be our leader today, he is a true Parliamentarian in the good old-fashioned sense. Instead we have a leader who can't even manage the correct mode of address in parliamentary debate.

Meanwhile, nice man though he is, IDS should never have been allowed near the leadership.

It's easy to forget sometimes that the "recovery" of 2005 still didn't even get us up to the number of MPs that Labour achieved under Michael Foot's leadership - that was their nadir.

10 wasted years.

I vote for IDS too, Derek. He is a decent man who from Day One faced a treacherous assault from a number of colleagues who refused to accept that he had been democratically elected by the people who matter - the grassroots membership. Despite their unceasing determination to de-stablise him by the time he was ousted he had taken the Party ahead in the Polls. History will be kind to him, but not to 'something of the night' Howard who was never trusted by the voting public - the 2005 Election was a disaster and a backwards step for the Party.

Howard was a disaster - I can't believe anyone here thinks well of him. He's practically a walking caricature of why people don't vote Tory, and thoroughly deserves it.

Between Hague and IDS? Compare what they did after being leader. Hague shrugged his shoulders and went off to do what interested him personally. IDS, despite having been treated appallingly by the very people who should have been his staunchest supporters, quietly stuck with it and made what contribution he could and was allowed to. That comparison really tells you all you need to know.

What's amazing is that IDS is continually criticised (then and still now) for not having the very qualities that people most hate in most politicians - slickness and the willingness to trim. People claim they want honest, genuine leaders - well you got one and see how he was treated.


His only mistake was not going for the jugular n Iraq.

IDS mistake on Iraq was the biggest abdication of oppositon in livng memory.

Howard exposed Blair on Hutton and Butler and in many ways set the public mood. He should have seen it through t its logical conclusion and admitted the Tories were duped on the war.

I do not like being rude about fellow Conservatives, so I will start by saying that the above indicates that there is a short list for this accolade of Hague and Howard. I cannot, however, pass over IDS without noting that he had the first opportunity to acknowledge that we had all been misled over Iraq WMD when this became clear during 2003. Howard had another opportunity when he became leader but, despite some distancing noises, did not take it. Both were major strategic mistakes, albeit understandable and from honourable motives.

With Howard and Hague you are not comparing like with like. Howard was an emergency patch-up job and, by those lights, he did very well. But the manifesto, quite apart from the debate about tone, was painfully thin in substance. All I can say is that if IDS had really developed such a sound policy platform, it was not sufficiently well hidden that even his successor failed to find it.

Hague had a longer shot at it, albeit the circumstances were even less auspicious. The great thing we can thank him for were for, to all intents and purposes, settling the issue of Europe as a divisive issue within the party; and settling it in a sensible place which coincides with where the public and most party members and supporters are. At times he cheered up the party immensely when we really needed it but he never got close to receiving the respect of the public as a potential PM. Funnily enough I think Howard was seen as a plausible and competent PM. Hague's big missed opportunity were the internal party "reforms". He had a huge opportunity to democratise the party - at first it looked as though he was going to, and very probably intended to, but the result was a massive centralisation and the effective ending of the party as a democratic organisation. Certainly local parties now have no democratic freedom over anything.

Conclusion: Howard brought us back from potential oblivion, was a plausible possible PM and paved the way very cunningly and deliberately for his promising successor. He did the party great service in a situation where he must have known throughout that the chances of becoming PM as a result of his efforts were very slim. Hague did more good in policy terms, but he also did more bad in an area where he should have done very well - internal party reform.

Let's face it - none of these three really had everything that it takes. But Howard must be the winner.

Of the choices given, I'd say IDS as he is the only one who tried to develop policy.

No question - Hague. In 1997 the party was on the brink of tearing itself apart (primarily over Europe) and, it has to be said, would have done if the other plausible candidate, Ken Clarke, had got the job

Hague kept the party together and performed well in parliament, however he was seen as unelectable to the public especially as they were willing to give Blair the benefit of the doubt

I'm astonished that people are considering Iain Duncan-Smith, or Iain Duncan-Syndrome as he was satirised. I was among those who thought that he wasn't being given a fair chance and that the vultures were circling prematurely, and was very angry that it was happening. I have to say in this case I was wrong, and the viciously preditorial Conservative Parliamentary Party was right. Because they had sussed what we could not at that stage. That Duncan-Smith did not have the ability to perform a Thatcheresque reinvention of himself, and that his time as leader would be akin to pulling a tooth, extremely uncomfortable and best got over quickly. How many speeches and PMQ's did we all sit through just WILLING him to be decent? It was horrendous. It's not just having the policies, it's being able to sell them. That's democracy.

To be fair, they all jumped onto a sinking ship so the possibilities for building up momentum were almost nil. Hague was the best in the Commons but all of them made very poor strategy decisions throughout their time in office, so I can't have much sympathy with any of them.


I remember staying up all night to watch the 2001 election results, despite having a Politics AS exam the next morning (I passed and got to quote the results in my answers). Hague couldnt win the election since Labour had won such a landslide. The Tories were unelectable in 2001 irrelevant of what they had done.

I joined the Party when IDS was leader. Unfortunately he wasnt going to be the leader for long as the Party was in its darker days post 2001 election. Betsygate was a terribly dirty thing to do and his ousting left a bad taste in a lot of peoples mouths.

I liked Howard. He was able to hold Blair, though that was less through charisma than through effective questioning. Despite what Labour had done up to 2005, a victory for Labour was still very much in the bag and it was a damage limitation exercise.

Sadly since then Ive fallen out with the Party and left a month ago frustrated with the treatment of the grassroots and unhappy at the policy direction. I dont plan to return for some time and have no confidence in Cameron as Leader.

Reading through this more carefully, I agree that Howard's calling Blair a liar was a very unproductive move that smacked of desperation. However much we in the Tory party longed for the public to see through Blair's corny play-acting, it clearly was not going to happen. Focussing on his incompetence would have been far more damaging. Heaven knows there was enough emerging evidence of that.

You're probably right Simon. But Howard was right too ,Blair was (and is)a liar. In 2005 people just didn't trust the Conservative party enough.

Michael Howard. He installed some discipline and credibility which may only have led to a marginal increase in votes in 2005 but paved the way for more to follow.

IDS did some good on policy though.
Hague - difficult to assess as he had a poisoned chalice.

I wonder what would have happened at the 2001 election if Michael Howard had won the 1997 leadership contest?

Depending on the party holding itself together, I'd say modest gains, but not enough to prevent Howard's abdication after it. It probably would have been fairly bloodless though; I reckon it would have been between Hague and Clarke, with Hague winning.

"Are you the same Goldie (19.48) who has criticised Cameron again and again over the past 18 months and now thinks we elected 'the right man' in 2005?
If Cameron can win over someone like you he's doing very well indeed."

Yes I am. But you haven't paid attention! I have always thought that Cameron was the right man. There simply was and is no alternative. Remember that I was a "May Cameroon." But I just wished Cameron had handled various things differently. Recently there has been quite a change. I still fear Cameron is too PC to be a good prime minister. But we'll see. First he needs to win some seats.

Each leader brought his own strengths to the Party in his time. Hague the man who prevented the Conservative Party from falling apart after 97, IDS who showed the nation that a decent, sincere man could lead our great party (until the MPs decided it was time to decapitate him) and Howard who is a debater of the first rank, from whom eloquence flows with ease.

Before we criticise any of them we should remember that under Nulab it has been media manipulation, to turn public opinion towards Labour and away from obvious truth and facts, which led to our successive defeats. No leader could have won a conventional election under those circumstances - thats why dictators use propaganda!

- thats also why David Cameron has understood the need to change public attitude to our party before we can hope to win any campaign under any leader. Cameron is well down that path. I think that of the three past leaders (and I have met two of them) Hague has to be the best as he had the worst task and carried it off honourably.

William Hague - the worst years to be an active Tory.

Until IDS took over.

Michael Howard was a life-saver. He was courteous, professional, deadly to Blair, and looked as though he could be a prime minister. While we were never going to win, we stopped looking like a terminal case. Had Howard not taken over, I think we would have been eclipsed by the Lib Dems by 2005.

That's not to say anything about the political thinking of any of these people. IDS is an inspiration to me now. His work on social justice has forged a new agenda for the 21st century party. But those were truly the worst years since the war to be a Tory.

"The foreign land" speech from Hague made me puke with disgust. "Come with me, and I'll give you back your country". No, you won't, Mr Hague, since it's not yours to give, and no-one's taken it off me anyway, but I understand very well to whom you're whistling; and it makes me sick.

But then "The Quiet Man" speech was the most embarrassing speech by any western politician, ever, surely? Can anyone recall it without their toes curling in horror?

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