It now looks certain that Portillo will be the next Tory leader and
he knows better than anyone that if he has any chance of being the next
prime minister then his party will have to change. Many in the Tory
Party, including some of the spin doctors, think that all they need to
do is to come up with an image like 'New' Labour. This is a mistake
because what Blair and Brown did to the Labour Party was not just to add
the name 'New'. Neil Kinnock did not just invent the Red Rose (despite
Mandelson claiming it was him) - he was responsible for starting the
process by taking on 'Militant'.
If anyone has any doubts about how much Labour changed and moved to the
centre ground then they only had to compare today's party conferences to
those of ten years ago. In contrast, the Tory Party conference last year
was no different to the one the year before or the year before that.
In fact, the most striking thing about the Tory conference is just how
old everyone is and how more right-wing the delegates are than the
I attended my first Tory conference last year and was shocked that
Portillo's stunning speech, when he talked without notes about his
sexuality, was heard in almost total silence. The speech that Ann
Widdecombe made suggesting locking up anyone who had ever smoked
cannabis was on the other hand received with a standing ovation. It was
Portillo's 'back stabbers' who suggested to a friendly journalist that
they ring round the Shadow Cabinet to ask them if they had ever smoked
dope and found that half of them had, thus making Widdecombe look
completely out of touch. No wonder Widdecombe called Portillo supporters
a 'little band of backbiters'.
Although Hague may have been a disaster for the Tories, they actually
have something to thank him for because he insisted that the MPs pick
the two candidates to go for a ballot of the party members. If
Widdecombe had been able to get enough MPs to support her, she would
have stood and the membership may have elected her leader - and
guaranteed another defeat.
At least with Portillo the Tories will stand a chance of winning the
next election. But he will have to take on the dinosaurs in the party
just as Blair did with the scrapping of Clause 4.
The Tories could learn a lot from Blair. The most telling remark that he
ever made was when he said that he knew the party did not vote for him
as leader because they liked him but because they thought he could
The one big problem the Tories still face, however, is the question of
Europe and the euro. As they found out to their cost, voters are much
more concerned with issues that directly affect their lives and
'scrapping the pound' was not one of them. Believe me, the one man who
Labour really fear is Kenneth Clarke.