Fraser Nelson authors an article in this week’s Spectator (not yet online) that speculates about the possibility of a fourth Tory defeat and who might then succeed a defeated David Cameron. His hook for the article is the string of recent bad news stories for the party and Trevor Kavanagh’s widely-reported prediction that ‘Brown will win, and win big.’
Fraser Nelson starts his list with George Osborne: "George Osborne
would be the continuity candidate: a moderniser to his fingertips. At
36, the Shadow Chancellor is five years younger than Mr Cameron – the
same age William Hague was when he succeeded John Major. His easy charm
has translated into a loyal following among party donors. He is
telegenic, articulate and not deemed to be carrying much Old Tory
baggage. He was privately scathing about ‘hug a hoodie’ and would
certainly be tougher on crime and anti-terror legislation than Mr
Then there’s William Hague: "The Shadow Foreign
Secretary is on record as saying that leading the Tory party once in a
lifetime was enough for him. Yet he is at the centre of any leadership
calculations made by senior Conservatives. He has undergone a
remarkable rehabilitation since he quit in 2001 and at 46, is certainly
young enough for a second shot. The question is whether he can be
persuaded to step back into the spotlight. Has carved for himself a
successful life outside politics, and makes £600,000 a year from
business, speaking and literary pursuits… ‘But would he really want to repeat his suicide mission?’
asks one of his allies. Some who speak to him fear he may walk away
from the front bench entirely — let alone wait to be leader again."
The list concludes with three figures from the right: David Davis (the pugilist who could counter the Great Clunking Fist) Liam Fox (whose robust views would provide clear blue water for the Tories) and Michael Gove.
Fraser’s own conclusion is one I would readily echo:
"The more Tories
ponder the alternatives, the clearer it becomes that there is no better
option than the incumbent. Strikingly, no one I spoke to disputes this.
One Shadow Cabinet member told me that, should Mr Cameron be run over
by a bus, ‘I’d kill the bus driver.’"
Editor’s comment: "There is no political messiah waiting in the wings to rescue the Conservative Party. The Tory problem is not primarily one of leadership and there is no obvious alternative to the charismatic leader we have. Our party’s problem is one of strategy. Prosperity and security are nearly always the top two issues for voters and we haven’t focused enough on those issues. Below the headline polls the most depressing recent poll finding was ICM’s finding that the new Prime Minister was preferred over the Tory leader on ability to handle terrorism by 52% to 20%. The Tories need to play hardball with Brown on this. David Davis pinpointed some of the issues in an article in yesterday’s Telegraph. He mentions Labour’s failure to get to ban the extremist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir. Labour are also making Britain vulnerable by lax border controls and diverting money away from, for example, intelligence because of the expensive and probably unworkable ID cards scheme. Davis, Fox and Hague should be leading the attack on Brown on these issues.
The challenge over the summer is not to put the Tories back into an election-winning lead – that may be too big an ask. The challenge is to reduce the Labour lead so that the instinctively cautious Gordon Brown won’t risk an autumn election. It’s not so much a time for strategy – more a time for guerilla war against Labour.
If we can prevent an early election we have a better and better chance of avoiding a nightmare fourth defeat. As time goes by voters will stop giving Brown the benefit of the doubt that he’s currently enjoying. The legacy of the Brown-Blair years on crime, taxes, unreformed public services and wastefulness will reassert itself. Tactical action to stop an autumn election should be the top priority for CCHQ over the summer."