Friday, July 01, 2005

Has Howard Done Us A Favour?

We've argued before that Michael Howard's decision to go for a six month leadership contest was going to inflict on the Party a lot of entirely avoidable damage. And we can already see it in terms of slumping morale among grassroots members, and perhaps even more pressing, the collapse of donor funding, forcing a wave of redundancies among party staff.

Of course, our MPs are enjoying it. Hugely. Once they'd kicked Monbiot's plans for MP performance objectives way off into the long stinging nettles, and then grabbed back the sole right to elect the leader, they could turn their full attention to the one thing they like best- plotting. Plotting, and being the centre of attention. The two things they like best...

But not everyone takes this view. Longtime party supporters the Grauniad reckon:

'Mr Howard has never done his party a greater service than to insist that he would hang around long enough to ensure that his party developed the habit of being serious about itself. The Tories should pick a new leader when they understand what kind of leader they need, not before...and...the lively debate in the Tory party is good for politics too.'


'At last the Tories seem to be shedding the instinct to move to the right in order to take Labour on. Instead, they seem now to grasp that they must win in the centre or not win at all. There is no better check or balance in our political system that the existence of an effective opposition. The Tory party needs to be able to scare its opponents.'

Ah. It's that Polly line again. So I guess it's only a matter of time now before they come out for Little David, although they won't like his Mary Whitehouse views on normal families and telly filth. So maybe they'll join Mary Ann in backing Willetts.

Anyway, setting aside the morale and finance issues, is there any truth in the idea that Mikey has done us all a favour?

I must admit to changing my view on this. Amid all the vacuous positioning speeches/articles, I think the Party is in the middle of one of those generational mindset changes. For the first time in thirty years we are seriously confronting the choices the nation faces on public services and the Welfare State. And together, we're realising there are some real practical alternatives that lie between Labour's hopeless managerialist big state, and the scarey libertarian minimalist 'Law and War' state. And we are the only people who can take them forward.

David Willetts' excellent speech to the Social Market Foundation is the meatiest contribution thus far, but Our Man will be making his own Big Speech shortly (by some miracle- and entirely independently of DD- I've actually got an invite; hurrah).

Engaged debate is taking place all over. From Bulgarian champagne evenings in the Home Counties, to the blogosphere (with your indulgence, see eg Once More). Three election defeats are concentrating our minds, but it's the Mikey leadership hiatus that's giving us the window.

The future is bright. The future is blue. And when we're back in power, I have a feeling we will be giving M Howard at least some of the credit.

Even if the Party is bankrupt.

Update: Turns out I haven't got an invite to the Big Speech- at the CPS next week- but only to a mass market re-run the following week. Hope it's not just going to be a tribute band reprise.


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