Throughout the four years between its two landslide defeats, the Conservative Party was intent on pleasing itself and its ultra-rightist supporters in the press, with the predictable and much-predicted consequence that it pleased nobody else. Its long orgy of self-indulgence began immediately after the 1997 election, when the Parliamentary Party rejected Kenneth Clarke as its next leader. Clarke was unquestionably the best of the candidates and indeed the only one who was unquestionably qualified for the job. Yet Conservative MPs preferred William Hague, who should not even have stood that time round, let alone have been the winner. As the Conservative Party in the country clearly favoured Clarke, the Parliamentary Party's gratuitous act of unilateral leadership disarmament was, so far as I know, the only occasion in the 20th century when either the Conservative or the Labour Party in Parliament was more extreme than its members in the country. The rejection of Clarke was also suicidal: the Party is now condemned to another four years of largely impotent opposition, whereas Clarke would either have won the recent election against a very vulnerable Labour Government or come close to doing so.
LRB 5 July 2001 | PDF Download