Just when I was beginning to think I'd mis-underestimated Michael Howard, he decides to announce he's leaving. I know the parting of the ways had to come sooner or later, but why couldn't he have stayed quiet, gently shuffled the deck, and watched Labour take the heat for a while? Baffling. Columnist Daniel Johnson is dismayed too. He suggests the Tories might done better to have stuck with Iain Duncan Smith after all:

It is a myth that Howard relaunched the Tories with new policies that were attractive to the electorate. What he did was to strip out any policies that might have appealed to the kind of liberal middle class voters who defected to Tony Blair in 1997....Duncan Smith had intended to emphasize the contrast between Tory and Labour economic and social policies, but also bury the negative image of the Tories as the “nasty party”. He wanted a combination of big tax cuts to appeal to self-interest, plus “compassionate conservative” self-help policies for “the vulnerable” to appeal to middle-class altruism...

But would IDS ever have overcome the charisma gap? I doubt it, although I'm very curious to see what happens with his think tank. Johnson, meanwhile, sees dangers in Howard's immediate legacy:

[H]is failure as a leader is likely to be compounded by his intention to change the rules of the leadership contest to replace him. The very idea that a leader should be allowed to rig the system to ensure that his own nominee is elected should be a non-starter. But Howard will probably get away with it. If he cannot now be king (by the next election he will be nearly 70), he has set his heart on being the kingmaker. And because he knows that the “Notting Hill Tories” (a liberal, privileged coterie whom he has sedulously promoted) are unlikely to be chosen by the party members, he wants to restore the exclusive right to elect the leader to the parliamentary party. This was the system that overthrew Margaret Thatcher in 1990, an act of matricide from which the party has never quite recovered.

|||Clive|||http://clivedavis.blogspot.com/2005/05/rudderless-just-when-i-was-beginning.html|||5/06/2005 04:08:00 pm|||||||||