OPINION: The Tories should take lessons from Blair

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.

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