The Conservative Catch-22

In the wake of the silence which followed my commentary on the future Tory leadership, I decided I wouldn’t write a sequel to spell out my thoughts that bit more clearly. Here it is.

With the Conservatives reinvigorated by two successive terms in Government, it’s inevitable that some elements of the Parliamentary party will look to leave David Cameron’s mark on the country beyond 2020, much as Thatcherite backbenchers proved to be a persistent challenge for Honest John. But the Iron Lady wasn’t ever seen as replaceable; her fourth son most certainly is. While there wasn’t any clear successor in 1990, there’s definitely a viable contender in the next few years: George Gideon Oliver Osborne, our long-serving Chancellor who’s rapidly becoming the Brown to Cameron’s Blair. Perhaps he always has been.

Unfortunately, rather like the ill-fated heir to New Labour, Osborne lacks his compeer’s relaxed charisma or appeal to floating voters, an issue compounded what many view as decidedly right-wing sympathies. Even though his Dispatch Box performances have seen something of an improvement recently, he may well struggle when confronted with Corbyn’s calm, compassionate style. Most importantly, he’ll have to win an election before thinking about legacies or consolidation. And somehow, I doubt he’s the right man for that particular job.

Similar problems plague the foreseeable candidacies of Gove, May or Javid, who would almost certainly be able to run a whelk stall with perfect organisation and efficiency – but only if the town crier were paid a pretty substantial fee to draw in the punters. Certainly, the perception which asserts the contemporary Tory Party to be led by non-entities and ciphers for each other’s egos would hardly be alleviated by most of the potential leaders who spring to mind, however misguided the foundation.

Boris Johnson provides a welcome exception to this view, but another foul dust of sleaze and distrust floats in his wake. In many respects, he suffers from the opposite problem to that which Osborne is facing: voters might crack a smile when he appears on stage, but some wouldn’t trust him to run the country or thrive on the diplomatic circuit. To put it another way, Westerners will be wondering what their little world has come to when the blonde bombshells of President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson are sat side by side at an international peace summit. Marching into the conference hall to the Peter Gunn Theme, no doubt: the Conservative Chums, the Blue Brothers, Partners in Crime.

There’s just one certainty about the next few years in British politics: they’re uncertain. It’s the only certainty, really. And that, I can tell you, is for certain. But anyway, we live in interesting times, and there are quite a few people who might have a stab at power come 2020. A mirror image of Corbyn’s sudden ascent to prominence, perhaps. I can just imagine the day when Peter Bone is greeted by rapturous cheers at a special Conservative conference, ready to lead his party into the upcoming election and beyond. What a horrible thought…

The Dave of Reckoning

I’m not the first person to work out that the Conservative Party has found itself in a pretty good position following their somewhat unexpected election victory. With Labour mired in cavernous divisions, UKIP smarting from defeat and the Liberals wounded in their worst result since the alliance’s jubilatory inception in the early 80s, the Tories are left with a clear choice: run wide to leave the legacy for which the famished backbenchers are pining or go for the apex and enjoy an unbroken streak of fifteen years in power. Only one tiny little problem stands in the way of a clearly signposted, win-win situation: our tactful premier.

David Cameron has, of course, announced plans to step down in 2020 and set in motion the election for a brand spanking new successor. I don’t blame him; it’s probably the right decision. By the time he leaves office, he’ll have led his party for fifteen years, nibbling at the Iron Lady’s high heels. But even John Major, the criminally underappreciated golden boy of Mrs. Thatcher’s latter reign, admits you’ve got to move on from that most prestigious of posts after a while – the stresses and strains of an indescribably important job, combined with the inevitable disconnectedness of high office, forces a sell-by date upon any self-respecting Prime Minister. Tony Blair chimes with him on this one, admitting that there’s a time for everything, not least power, not least perception, not least concession.

So ‘Call Me Dave’ is set to pull off a very rare trick and go out on a high, no matter what. But it’s inevitable that the pre-election appetiser he’s arranged for television viewers across the land will be a mêlée of competing ideas and principles, a battle for the life and soul of the party exemplified in just a few contenders. Nevertheless, obvious names are few and far between. Mighty acorns rarely prosper in the shadow of the great oak.

For those of you who are checking opinion polls and scratching heads at the sight of the words ‘great oak,’ bear in mind Michael Train-Spotting Portaloo’s really rather perceptive point about the types of people who we choose to lead the nation. There are, in fact, only two. One is the jobbing Member of Parliament who finds himself next in line to the throne whether he likes it or not – yes, they’re exclusively male so far. The other – and you’ll have no trouble guessing one divisive figure that fits into this category – are the ‘destiny’ politicians who enjoy a meteoric rise to power and the most sensational downfalls when they eventually manifest themselves.

In some ways, this mirrors the struggle between monopolists and competitors which keen students of capitalism and players of ‘Anti-Monopoly’ will certainly grasp. To this observation, I’ll add one of my own: since the era of media-fuelled British politics began with the Profumo Affair and ascent of pipe-smoking Yorkshireman Harold Wilson, the highest office of Government has alternated between these groupings without fail. Standing on the shoulders of their respective giants are Heath, Callaghan, Major and Brown.

It seems we like change in this country, played out like a soap opera fuelled by the Daily Mail. So we’ll probably end up with a suitably dreary man in a suit if that highly unreliable method is anything to go by. And I can tell you it probably isn’t. Come to think of it, Portillo’s curious admiration for Wilson suddenly seems somehow appropriate. But I’m straying from the matter in hand.

David Cameron was only elected Tory Leader after four years in Parliament, and from there he revolutionised his party with an injection of vigour and the pleasant, open face of an airbrushed fashion model or well-sandpapered cricket bat. From the depths of ridicule, the Conservatives rose to become a truly electable force in a remarkable comeback almost worthy of Nelson Mandela, Slade or Lazarus. When the architect of this return to form finally steps down, it’ll be the end of an era. And that’ll be equally remarkable in itself: a political career that doesn’t end in absolute failure, and a ‘destiny’ Prime Minister who passes the baton with dignity and pride.