candidate, although short lived, is Ann Widdecombe. She has
rather scuttled her own ship by complaining about "backbiting"
from the camp of Michael Portillo, although one thinks about
heat and kitchens when one hears politicians complaining about
rough play. She is known for her sharp authoritarianism, which
is good because no one really knows where she stands on issues
like Europe. It is believed that she is either mildly pro-Europe
or she is truly ambivalent on the issue. As it looks like she
is about to withdraw from the race and back Ken Clarke (which
may be a clue) then this may be a moot case.
we have John Redwood. John is a man of the right, the man who
more than anyone can claim to have seen in privatisation. A
creative and efficient man, he has a sharply cold public persona
which together with his hard right views tend to alienate the
voters. He is a friend of Newt Gingrich, which really says it
all. His "Conservative Populism" was the inspiration behind
Hague's approach, although neither man would admit it now. An
advanced Euro-realist he would pull out of the European Union
if given a free hand, although his attitude towards the Special
Relationship is of the knee-jerk supportiveness that one expects
of the British right. John Redwood, however, is unlikely to
run saving for himself a role as the Eurosceptic king maker.
Duncan-Smith probably will run for the leadership. He is one
of the more interesting candidates. Unlike most of the others,
he is a "real person" who has served in the army and worked
in the City of London. He is a Eurosceptic, and the only one
of the candidates who voted against the Maastricht treaty. He
is also defence spokesman and as such has opposed some of the
more blatantly stupid British interventions such as Sierra Leone
and East Timor. It is his attitude on America that worries.
He is, like John Redwood, very friendly with Republicans on
the Hill, and he based his very effective opposition to the
European Defence Initiative on the fact that it would cause
friction with our "natural ally" America. He is very much wedded
to the Special Relationship. On top of that, he is bald, and
so was Hague.
there is David Davis. Popular in the parliamentary party, he
is the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Of all the
candidates (with the obvious exception of Ken Clarke), he is
the most critical of the special relationship with the Americans.
He is also a hard-core Eurosceptic (despite the fact that he
steered the Maastricht treaty through Parliament when a Government
whip) and an English nationalist. Unfortunately, he is a total
unknown outside Parliament, and the Conservative Party is not
really into taking another risk on an unknown.
there is Michael Portillo. Like Ken Clarke, and unlike the others,
he is a "big beast," familiar with the public. The problem is
we all know who he is, but what is he for? When he was
a minister in John Major's government (for Defence) he privately
used to say that we should withdraw from the European Union.
At the same time, he helped push forward the European Defence
Initiative. In opposition, he has been steadfast in opposing
Economic and Monetary Union, but he has been keen to keep cosy
with Ken Clarke. The basis of his political belief was his early
years in Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Here he picked up a
rather gloomy and elitist version of Conservatism from his tutor
Maurice Cowling. It was also a rather unprincipled version of
Conservatism, and so for those who believe that Portillo will
be steadfast in his defence of British sovereignty, think again.
As one person close to the Peterhouse set once told me "nations
do die, you know." This is not to say that Portillo only cares
about himself, that is not true, but he is not very keen to
lay bare what he does care about. He is even positioning himself
as the leader who could "accept defeat" in the Euro referendum.
Conservative Party has actually quite a future ahead of it.
The Labour Party has promised to move heaven and earth on public
services and not to raise taxes. The problem is that they have
already raised taxes sharply, and this in a boom time. The combination
of a recession, no matter how mild, sky-high public expectations
and greater resistance to tax increases could be deadly. Of
course, no one really cares about foreign policy. However, the
future of the European project could depend on the state of
schools in the Midlands and hospitals in outer London and
on how much hair the next leader of the Conservative Party has.
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