New Tory leader must end Euro battles to secure young blood

Last weekend I spoke at a Tory dinner in a village hall in the Malvern Hills. Towards the end, the chairman called a vote on the leadership.

Last weekend I spoke at a Tory dinner in a village hall in the

Malvern Hills. Towards the end, the chairman called a vote on the


It came out like this: Kenneth Clarke 45; William Hague 15; and John

Redwood four. Any abstentions - and there were a few since about 80 were

present - were not recorded.

This vote reflected, though perhaps exaggerated, the consistently strong

support Mr Clarke has had outside the Commons where so far MPs have the

sole say in electing a leader. By now the poll may well be academic. But

what is not academic is the problem expressed by a farmer who came up to

me afterwards. He and his wife, he said, were obviously the youngest

present. I would judge they were around 40. ’What’, he asked, ’is our

new leader going to do about that?’

It was a very good question in a branch which prides itself on having

the oldest active supporter - and election teller - in the business. She

is 100 and, bless her, came to listen to me. Like all the scores of

constituency dinners I have addressed since I ’retired’ seven years ago,

this was predominantly a pensioners’ affair. To be blunt, the

Conservatives have become the geriatric party.

Too much should not be made of this since, ironically, one of the Tory

legacies is a much more competitive and hard-working Britain which puts

much greater career pressures on young, would-be politicians who have

not made politics their life since university. But one of the prime

tasks of a new Tory leader is to attract lively young activists who

recognise that, without the bedrock of vigorous local support, the party

will be severely handicapped in re-building its fortunes.

The overriding task, however, is to unite behind its new leader. Unless

it does that, it will get nowhere and not only fail itself but also the

nation. With a majority of 179 and dictatorial tendencies, Prime

Minister Tony Blair needs fierce, unrelenting and inspired opposition.

How the middle Thatcher years would have benefited from it!

The Tories’ problem is desperate. If they continue to row over Europe

when they cannot do anything about the issue, they will present the

Liberal Democrats with the best chance they have ever had of supplanting

them as HM Loyal Opposition. That thought has occurred to some Tories in

the Malvern Hills. The grass roots are crying out for unity of


Without it, the Tories are unsaleable. Without it, they will not be

re-invigorated or secure young blood. And without it, all the PROs in

the world will be wasting their time. No self-respecting public

relations firm should take them on until they show they have learned

this elementary lesson.

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