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« Ken Clarke criticises grassroots Tories | Main | Ken Clarke boosted by Times poll »


Mark Higgins

This will be an important speech. sir Malcolm is one of the most eloquent people in parliament and his time at the scottish bar makes him a very sharp and formidable asset. What he says about the centre ground today will be very interesting. Will he advocate a move to the left, or more of a social justice vision through right-wing policies and innovative reforms? if the latter, he's a highly credible candidate; if the former, I fear we would lose the virtue of being different, and Conservatives win when Conservatives are different.

Tom Greeves

This centre ground stuff is a load of nonsense. The centre ground is just the middle of the mainstream political spectrum.

We should be leading the debate instead of allowing ourselves to be shaped by it. Margaret Thatcher understood this, and look at the success we enjoyed under her.

Offer the voters New Labour Lite, and they'll choose the Real Thing. We need to offer them - as Mark Higgins says - a platform for social justice within a right wing context. We should also be much more eurosceptic. If that means that the Guardian and the BBC hate us even more, who cares?

The other idiocy is this idea that those people who might vote for us but who are not doing do currently are all centrists. Lots of them are to our right, or don't think in those terms at all.

Happily doing the right thing and doing the electorally advantageous thing collide. As far as I'm concerned anyone who wants to move the Party leftwards can go and join the Lib Dems.


I'm bored with all this 'centre','centre-left' and 'rightwing' posturing.I will be much more interested when any of the leadership candidates start to outline their proposals on how they would deal with the issues facing Britain currently.
The philosophical mutterings that I've read from several candidates so far seem very full of NuLabour buzz words and I never want to hear them claim they will 'reach out' to the electorate again.What does this mean?!!!
Having said that I wouldn't advocate the ideas of the poster above.The Conservative party has always been a broad church and I would hope that we can all have a civilised debate rather than urging people who don't agree with us to leave for our political opponents.
Also we cannot be happy that we are 'hated' by the BBC .This issue must be tackled head on by the new leader.Whether we like it or not the BBC is regarded by the public as a far more authoritative source of news than other broadcasters or newspapers.We have to challenge them loudly and publicly EVERYTIME we encounter bias. So even if we fail to change the minds of their Liberal elite we can, I hope, undermine their preeminent position in the eyes of the populace.We will only be successful in this approach if we are fair ourselves and reasonable and generous in all our public complaints and hide the fury we probably all feel

Paul Marks

I suppose it all depends on what the "centre ground" means.

If it means a do nothing polcy, that would actually not be as bad as the present government (or Mr Major's government come to that).

If would mean no increase in government spending for "schoolsnhospitals" (at least no above inflation) and no more regulations.

And that is a lot better than what we will get over the next few years - and a rather better policy (at least in terms of money) that the one we proposed last month.

But I very much doubt that "centre ground" means "do nothing" (neither cut spending or increase it, neither deregulate or add new regulations). "Centre ground" seems to mean "follow the policies that the B.B.C. says are the centre ground". Although, of course, Channel Four is just as bad as the B.B.C.

There is no point in having a Conservative party if we support this "centre ground".

As for attacking the bias of the B.B.C.

There are no neutral men - as that old Red N.K. said. i doubt that there is any "unbiased" way of presenting news and current affairs. The very stories one picks (let alone how one covers them) will be influenced by one's political opinions.

Television and radio should be like newspapers with different news casters representing different points of view and people allowed to choose what they want to watch or listen to (if anything) and, of course, there should be poll tax on owning a television set.

"But the people love the B.B.C." - well if that is true they will be happy to pay for it voluntarily.

Actually I would like to see more diversity in print journalism as well.

There is a growing trend to the doctrine that only people who have studied journalism at a university may go into the trade. And there are even odder things - why (for example) does the Daily Telegraph advertise posts in the Guardian? It no longer surprises me that there are so many leftists working in corners of the D.T.

The last thing we need is an American doctrine of an "objective press". This simply means a leftist press.

"Centre", "unbiased", "mainstream" - in the Western world these have all become code for ever bigger government, the denial of national independence and social liberalism.

Tom Greeves

On reflection, Malcolm, I will concede that I was excessively flippant re the BBC and leftie Tories leaving for the Lib Dems.

I can actually think of several leftish Tory MPs whom I admire a great deal, and I'd be terribly sorry to see them go.

You were right to call me on my last post. Fair's fair.

Mark Higgins

Paul if sir Malcolm says 'Do nothing' and indeed if any of the candidates say that, they will not be getting my vote in whatever form it is under the new rules. We need to do more than get out of people's lives: we need to offer them something, at the most basic level including things such as a firm commitment to no further incursions on the right to trial by jury, and the restoration of the integrity of the exams system. What damion green says about right-wing policies to achieve left-wing aims--care for the elderly, maternity provision, special needs education, innovative schemes to improve healthcare etc.--totally encapsulates what I mean about social justice and is more "Centrest" than any other path, whilst at the same time being to all intents and purposes right-wing.

IDS recognised this but like I said, he was a lamentable salesman for his ideas. Sir Malcolm would sell the social justice ticket so much better, and let's face it, Labour don't believe in social justice anymore; they believe in a one-size-fits-all approach and it's because they're weak on crime that they have to adopt more invasive and authoritarian measures. That is not the social justice of the right, and embracing the social justice of the right is moving the centre towards us rather than moving towards the centre.

Finally it goes without saying in my view that the Conservative party is a broad church and that those who don't believe in my social justice of the right thesis or who think the party should move in another direction are still perfectly sound Conservatives.


Yes, it would be wonderful if someone came up with one or two policies that meant something to the country beyond Westminster. Then they could call that 'the centre ground' - because that's what the centre ground is - whoever stakes their claim to it. Just talking about it as a location is meaningless.

I must say, the idea that Rifkind is 'eloquent', 'sharp' and 'formidable' seems absurd to me. He strikes me as vacuous. I can't remember anything he's ever said. And I would have thought we've had enough of people who have learned their tricks 'at the bar'.

Damian Green is more interesting, however. I think he might give us some substance tonight.

Mark Higgins

As a soon-to-be member of the bar I must rush to the defence of barristers in politics and would highlight in particular the fact that Margaret Thatcher was herself a barrister, and Michael Howard's background as a queen's counsel has served us very well both in and out of government. but I don't want to turn this latest contribution into a soliloquy on the bar's virtues.

Having read Sir Malcolm's speech tonight it was everything I hoped for. He foreshadowed radical general tax reforms, linked tax reform to the practical benefit analysis and avoided woolly academia by doing so.

He made it clear that his conservative party would unequivocally commit itself to stopping all this limiting trial by jury and detaining people without trial nonsense and this suggest to me that unlike Charles clarke, david Blunkett and Jack Straw, a Conservative home secretary would have to have an understanding of the criminal justice system and dare I say it be either a solicitor or member of the bar.

Most of all, however, he talked about "winning back" the centre ground rather than moving towards it. This is far from a formalistic distinction: it shows that he understands that the problem with the last two elections was that the campaign was seen as too narrowly focused (Although in 2005 this was far more the media's fault than Michael Howard's I'd venture to suggest). To be ready for government we have to start the vision of social justice now! It must begin as soon as the leadership is settled and must continue coherently, persuasively and mercilessly through the parliament. Our mistake before was that people didn't know what 'Howardism' was until last October.

I haven't seen Damion green's contribution yet but like what has been previewed. How about a Rifkind-Green dream ticket?

Alexander Drake

Hello all from Australia,

My view is that talk of 'centre ground', 'right wing ground', etc etc seems pointless. That's the wrong debate.

The ground we need to gain is 'trust' ground for our party to once again be judged as credible economic managers. You want a modern Conservative Party? I think the best way to achieve that is to gain a reputation as a party that talks regularly, and credibly, about 'the economy' in a politically-understood context.

When I say 'the economy', I don't mean a pinstriped, FT-reading "City" understanding of oil trading, or stockbroking. I think the demographic that makes up much of our traditional support base loves all that slightly fruity imagery, but it does lack a politically useful connect with the people we need to win over.

Instead I mean explaining how whatever figures are released on a certain day reflect that the Government's policies are killing opportunities to create jobs, or inhibiting business confidence, or hurting small business (a great job generator). If you demonstrate that Labour's economic policies are hurting your ability to get a better paying job, or pay off your house, or afford private schooling for your kids, you go a long way to winning their vote. Demonstrating our policies are better at getting the outcomes people want will secure them. That also applies to better public sector service delivery.

Once that approach is agreed upon, the Party should almost become boring in its repitition on economic issues. Today, Daily Politics, Andrew Marr, etc etc etc - all the 30 second grabs for TV and radio, should be focused on winning back the ground on being trusted with the economy. We have to drum it in to people's heads endlessly.

Good. Economic. Management.

I think the message is shown to be heard favourably already. After all, the Conservative approach on economic management and public administration is obviously appealing - or why else would we be so successful at a council level? I think too many people are easily intimidated by memories of the early 1990s. If we keep putting off tackling that legacy, it makes it extremely hard for us to win again.

I just think that's much more important 'ground' than a perceived shift to or from the "centre", whatever that is.

Don't use shifts on social policy to get the AB voters back - that'll just annoy the non-economic voters on the Right that we need and already have under our umbrella. To win, I think we need to remember 'it's the economy, stupid'.

Dave J

"As a soon-to-be member of the bar I must rush to the defence of barristers in politics..."

As a member of the Florida Bar, and a former staff attorney for the Florida House of Representatives, I must rush to repudiate any generalizations about lawyers in politics. I've run across some great ones, and also plenty more self-righteous twits convinced of their own genius. But that's true of all politicians.

Mark Higgins

I did not mean to suggest that all barristers who have eventually gone on to politics were natural politicians or good at being either barristers or politicians. Jack Straw was a barrister after all, albeit for only nine months!

Jack Stone

All of those likely to stand for the leadership are Conservatives who agree with one another more than they disagree.
I think the most important thing is that the next leader is the person who is most likely and able to win the next election and put a Conservative back in Downing Street.
I believe that only Ken Clarke or David Cameron are capable of doing just that.


What I'm interested in seeing is where the "Notting Hill" people drift to. Rifkind may have declared so early because he is worried the new intake are drifting towards Davis

Mark Higgins

I stand by what I have said before, Jack. Whilst I agree that the most important thing is that we have a leader who will ensure a Tory government in 2009-10, I couldn't disagree more with your suggestion that Ken Clarke is one of the men who could do this. It is wrong to think that referenda in france and Holland have removed Europe from the agenda in the near future, as Ken Clarke claims. On the contrary, europe will be in sharp focus over the coming months and years and the Conservative party must continue to be the voice of the Eurosceptic majority in britain, any other course being political madness. David Cameron may be our man, but whether he is or not what is clear is that the modernisers still seem somewhat disorganised as Peter Obourne points out in his excellent article in last saturday's issue of The spectator.


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