JUDGE AND JURY: Hague must accept new brand values for new Tories The Tories must find something new to say to the electorate if their latest reforms are not to be dismissed as merely cosmetic, says Edward Bickham, managing director of public and corporat

Apart from a weekly outing at Prime Minister’s Questions, William Hague usually only gets the chance to act like a leader when his office lets it be known that he has ’slapped down’ some miscreant.

Apart from a weekly outing at Prime Minister’s Questions, William

Hague usually only gets the chance to act like a leader when his office

lets it be known that he has ’slapped down’ some miscreant.



It must, therefore, have made a welcome change last week to focus on

something over which he has increasing command and control - the

Conservative Party machine. He unveiled an ambitious blueprint for

reshaping his Party including introducing one man, one vote, national

membership and an ’ethics’ committee. He also jettisoned the ’torch’

logo and hinted that the Tories might switch from blue to mauve.



The launch of the ’Fresh Future’ document achieved three things. First,

in its staging it showed Hague in Presidential mode. Second, it provided

an opportunity for the Conservatives to stress their ’modernising’

credentials.



Thirdly, it flagged the start of an attempt to reverse the decline in

Party membership - increasingly important once the new regime on the

funding of political parties is finalised.



The event was well handled - although the unattributed briefing from one

source about Hague’s intention to hold a ballot of the membership on EMU

before the European elections could yet unleash a new chapter of

blood-letting. The establishment of the ’ethics’ committee also

addresses both the ’sleaze’ factor and the leadership’s impotence to do

anything about Neil Hamilton’s position in Tatton at a crucial

juncture.



Hague’s advisers have clearly studied the final stages of Labour’s

odyssey from Opposition to power and are seeking to ape it. But the

dividends associated with reform of their constitution are not remotely

comparable to those available to Labour. Its changes concerned pivotal

issues - the commitment to State ownership; trade union power, and

attempts to control a Labour Government by the NEC. The grandees of the

Conservative National Union are not in the same league of dragon to be

slain.



It is still early days to judge whether the Tories should be taken

seriously for the next election. Finding a new way to connect with the

electorate is central to this challenge. As yet, they do not have

anything new to say, and it would be premature for them to rush into new

policy positions.



They first need to learn to enjoy Opposition. Jettisoning the logo and

putting their shade of blue up for grabs may make sense, but a

comprehensive make-over will have to wait until they are clear about

what their new ’brand values’ are going to be.



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