Opinion: Even Bush knows that Howard is a loser

Any leader of the opposition craves meetings with international leaders because it's good PR to be linked with a real winner. We now know that even the US president thinks Michael Howard won't be Britain's next prime minister. That's why George Bush's snub to him is so deeply damaging.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown enjoyed high-level mini-summits when they were in opposition, and when Neil Kinnock wanted to avoid Ronald Reagan, they met: this is some indication of how big a snub Howard suffered.

News of the humiliation came at the end of an exhausting but totally unproductive month for the Conservative Party leader. Meanwhile, Blair was sunning himself at other people's expense and the Labour Party was positively doing nothing. Surely there is a lesson here for all political parties? If Blair had been seen to pay his own way, Number 10 would have been given top marks for its summer campaign, while the talk about William Hague making a comeback is no longer seen as a joke. I suspect that Howard wishes he had taken a longer holiday - and, if he had met Bush this summer, he might have learned something too.

Following on from their successful conference in 2000, the Republicans are unashamedly appealing to middle America. That means shoving all their right-wing nutters off the TV prime-time slots and showcasing Arnold Schwarzenegger and the lefty (in Republican terms) ex-mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani.

Last month, the Democrats pulled off exactly the same trick and kept all their left-wing delegates quiet. Both parties know that to win they simply must appeal to the centre ground, no matter what their activists think.

Bizarrely, the Tories seem to have abandoned all the lessons learned from America, especially from the 'compassionate Conservatives' initiative.

For some strange reason they have again begun appealing to their core vote: perhaps the Tory strategists have given up on winning next time round. That seems to be the only explanation for Howard's Victor Meldrew outburst on 'political correctness'. And what an earth is Liam Fox, the Conservative Party co-chairman, doing drumming up Tory support in Hong Kong, Dubai, Los Angeles and New York?

It is quite possible that things will now get worse for the Tories. They still haven't even picked a candidate for Hartlepool, a seat that even a monkey could win. They are bound to end up squabbling and looking for a new leader. And what is wrong with Hague?

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