OPINION: Tories won't be elected if they play by their rules

A political hack asked me last week 'What PR advice would you give the Tories, Charlie?' For once I was lost for words.

One thing I do know is that everyone outside the Tory Party believes that they need a new leader. Iain Duncan Smith may be a thoroughly decent chap but in the modern media world that is not enough. I was at a lunch a few days ago with Michael Portillo and the first thing you notice with him is that as soon as he enters the room people look and listen. He is one of the rare breed of modern politicians who has genuine charisma.

Or as one of my fellow lunch guests put it, 'He has a real presence'.

There is no doubt in my mind that if Portillo was Tory leader Tony Blair would be genuinely worried.

The problem is that his Party would never elect the ex-Shadow Chancellor because they simply don't trust him. It will probably take a few more election defeats before the Tory rank-and-file realise that they need to elect a leader not because they like or dislike him, but because he can win.

Amazingly, many Tories are blaming Portillo for their present plight.

They seem to think that the latest crisis is all down to him, completely ignoring the fact that IDS is unelectable and that it was their current leader who lit the blue touch paper this week with his sacking of key Tory modernisers in central office.

Voters may have never heard of the Tory chief executive Mark MacGregor, but all the Westminster scribes have, and IDS should have known that a huge row would follow his sacking. It was MacGregor who wrote Theresa May's conference speech which bluntly told delegates that the Tories were seen as the 'nasty' party. Party chairman May wasn't even consulted about the sacking and was privately furious. Even the sacking of MacGregor was bungled - he wasn't even in the country when he was called in to face dismissal. This was reminiscent of the removal of the previous Party Chairman David Davis, who was given the boot by IDS when on holiday last summer.

The Tory spinners wrongly assumed that by knifing the central office staff on a Friday just before the half term break noone would notice.

Trying to 'bury bad news' simply doesn't work any more. If they can't even get that right, what hope have they got of being elected?

The Tories now have a huge problem. William Hague not only failed as leader, he also left behind an election process that effectively stops the Party from getting rid of a leader that the MP's know to be a dead duck. Even worse than that, they have given the final vote to Tory party members - average age 68.

So what can the Tories do? They should, of course, elect Portillo, but they won't so they should do the next best thing and give the job to Ken Clark, who is still desperate to fill the roll. This may put the new Tory leader to the left of the Labour Prime Minister, but at least they would have a decent leader. For all this to happen the MPs need to junk the crazy rules adopted to save Hague's skin and then face the fury of Party activists. They shouldn't worry about doing this as it's the grass-roots Tories who are holding the Party back - just as Labour's did for so many years.

The Tories will only get back into power if they ditch the right-wing rabble who are still telling their leader that they need to rid the Party of modernisers. If they do all this then they won't need PR advice from me - they will be in Government.

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