Thursday, September 01, 2005

Smokin' KC joins the race

Well, not so much racing as ambling affably along.

Ken Clarke is pretty much universally regarded as the one Tory leadership candidate that the Labour party really fears - someone who can attract support from the swing voters that the Tories need to regain ground against Labour. Anthony Wells over at UK Polling Report has reviewed the figures on Ken's potential leadership - he's been touted as the leader for the past decade or so - and come up with some interesting points from the survey.

Ken gains from being recognisable - some people know who David Davis is (those who don't confuse him with the badger-striped sports presenter of the 80s or the BBC reporter turned FA administrator of the 90s), but only real propellor-head policy wonks could pick David Cameron out of a line-up (possibly not even his family). This is important, but not crucial. Any leader elected now has four years to get his image across the press and will be recognisable by the time the next election comes around.

While Ken is liked across the political spectrum, he's not well-regarded within the Tory Party. It would seem that Ken would gain voters from the swing categories, but there is a risk that the core vote might decide to go elsewhere. I'd say that this is actually an acceptable risk, as by the time 2009/10 comes around, the core Tory vote (that which has not shuffled off this mortal coil) will be so desperate that they would support a re-animated Ted Heath if it means getting within distance of the levers of power. The European issue - a weak spot within Tory ideology for Ken - seems to be going off the boil as the constitution lies listing in the water and the Euro sinks beneath detection range of the political radar in this country.

However, the next election is a while away and whoever leads the Tory party then will (in all probability) be facing a certain G Brown across the floor, not TB. As has been pointed out, Ken Clarke is currently 65, so will be knocking on the door of his 70th birthday by the time the next PM decides to go to the country. Labour will also be able to rerun their 'Back to the 80s' style campaign attacking Clarke for his involvement in the Thatcher government. How effective that will be when a significant chunk of voters will have no memory of that decade remains to be seen. Ken's close association with the tobacco industry could also be a negative point - he's reputed to have made a million from his involvement over the past few years. This is at odds with his former position as Secretary of State for Health.

Malcolm Rifkind showed that he had the fine grasp of the political process by launching his campaign today and being completely ignored in favour of Ken. He promised that he would add more backers to the four nonentities already signed up. I'm not holding my breath.

Ironically, although we have a fair idea of the field of candidates, we still don't know how they will be chosen, which promises to be the most important issue in selecting a leader. I don't think it simply a fortuitous coincidence that the letter in the Torygraph demanding that the rank and file members choose their leader came out as Ken declared his candidacy - I sense the hands of other contenders in the mix, there. KC knows that his best chance lies with convincing MPs that he's the candidate most likely to bruise TB in debate, as the membership don't trust his Europhile views.

Other parties have accepted the idea of members voting on their leader - seems a reasonable democratic solution to me, as it seems distinctly unfair to completely disenfranchise members who live in non-Tory constituencies. These are the ones who have the most to gain from the right leader - they might get a Tory MP as a result. Those who live in Tory constituencies are only slightly better off, as they have to rely upon influencing their MP to vote in a particular way - and that's no easy task. The MPs might whinge about getting a leader they don't want, but the party leader has to represent the whole party, not just a tiny proportion.

For all that, I doubt Ken will win. The Tories need to move on from the 80s and 90s and that can only be done with a new leader untainted by that decade. The force seems to be with Davis, but whoever wins has a mountain to climb to restore the faith of the electorate in the Conservative Party as a force for good government. Changing the captain of the Titanic won't stop it hitting the iceberg.

No comments: