Friday, November 08, 2002

On decency in politics

Amongst the torrent of words that have recently been unloaded over the head of the leader of the Conservative Party in the last week, perhaps the most common has been “decent”.

Decency in politics tends not to be a great compliment. Political synonyms might include well meaning, ineffectual, polite. When one reads it in a profile, the tendency is to see it as code for “not actually awful”. A decent living politician is one who is not actively corrupt, rude, obnoxious, vile or idiotic. On the other hand they may very well be incompetent, plodding, dull, out of their depth, lost or lazy.

It strikes me that this is a sad state of affairs. Decency is no mean quality in a person driven by belief. We seem only able to recognise this on their death or retirement. I think of Paul Wellstone, or of John Smith.

We need decent politicians. So perhaps we need to be clearer about what is valuable about decency n politics. So here is a stab at why decency matters.

A decent politician is driven by belief, but respects opponents.

A decent politician is able to encompass the thought that while they believe such and such, a politician who believes not-such and such is not necessarily motivated purely by greed, political advantage, corruption, selfishness or stupidity.

This means that they respect, and engage with opposing arguments, dealing with them on their merits and by their meanings. This means that when they make a deal, they can do so on the basis of what their true priorities are, making a rational calculation about what the maximal outcome for their cause is. Conversely, when they do impute base motives to their opponents, it is more likely to be believed and to make a difference.

Decent politicians force all politicians to engage with them on that level or be exposed as frauds.

So, A decent politician is open, mature and intellectually alive.
We have machine politicians, patronage politicians, narrow ideologues and careerists. A decent politician can be any of these, but what distinguishes them from their lesser compatriots is the ability to engage, to debate, to repudiate and to synthesise.

Decent politicians raise the political debate.

Hence, decent politicians know they make mistakes.

It can be hard to make mistakes in politics. The pressure is to see your failures as successes, or to interpret your failures as part of some self-aggrandising “learning process”.

A decent politician has the ability to honestly admit to mistakes and error. This might not be done publicly (a decent politician does not have to be a masochist). If this is done honestly, changes can be made. if it is done as part of some life story or needed revision in the face of electoral upset, it only allows a cynical corrective to be applied. A politician who can recognise a weakness, a failing or a plain mistake, either of ideology or of decision, can take action to correct it.

Decent politicians improve and revise their own party as well as destroy others.

Therefore decent politicians have humility.

The political life is seductive. Politics can be Power, Fame, Glamour (for ugly people), Sex, Influence. All are available to a successful politician. These are not small temptations or motivators. If achieved they can turn a politician’s head. The maintenance of them can become as important as delivering for the electorate or changing society. A decent politician knows that whatever their own role in a great enterprise, they too will one day pass from the scene. They do not identify themselves solely with the success of all. This does not mean they are not aware of their own importance. They are acutely aware of it. It simply means that they realise that they are human, not superhuman.

All of which means, Decent politicians can be one of us.

Because decent politicians can debate, can learn, can admit flaws and can recognise their role as it really is, we can in return offer them tust. They can go further than others would because we trust them. They can take risks that we would allow a friend not a stranger. We can respect them.

A decent politician can, therefore take us further , because we can believe in them, than one we do not trust. Fundamentally a decent politician would not betray that trust. This matters, because one decent politician creates room for the next.

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Labour 80's, Tories Today?

There's been a a lot of comparison between Labour's situation after 1983 and that of the Tories today.

One of my pet obsessions is the organisational differences between parties and the way they impact the political development of parties. Regular readers will have seen this recently in my obsessive interest in Tory party leadership rules.

So you can imagine my delight in reading David Mill's article in Tribune this week. Since it's not available online (booo) and Tribunes print run is roughly the size of a parish newsetter, I shall summarise some of his points below.

"Columnists keep urging IDS to be a Kinnock, but the key difference is that pretty early on Kinnock set his course and stuck to it, knowing he was burning his bridges with the left in the hope that he was building a stronger bridge between the party and the electorate...

"Looking ahead the Conservative political calendar offers few oportunities for IDS to relaunch himself- another crucial difference between the modern Tory party and Labour after 1979. Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, there were plenty of chances for Labour modernisers to engage in skirmishes against their opponents...'s clear that Kinnock drew strength from the successive victories in elections to the National executive and the shadow Cabinet.

"Paradoxically, those elections generated stability. To get a place in the Kinnock shadow cabinet you had to fight for votes against 30 or 40 colleagues. If you jacked it all in after winning suport from different blocs, you would have gained a reputation as a quitter not a fighter which would have ben pretty hard to shift.

"In similar circumstances, a Labour equivalent of John Bercow would surely have stood his ground, fought for votes in that years shadow cabinet elections, tried to secure a place on the NEC all the time fighting the mordernising cause side by side with his leader. It is impossible to imagine an alumnus of Labour's right or modernising tendencies doing a Bercow durng the 1980's"

"In contrast Conservative Shadow Cabinet positions are decided on the basis of partonage and the whim of the leader. As a result the jobs can be more easily tossed away... presumably because only the leader will be annoyed- BS ... and the lack of internal party democaracy leaves agitating for the nuclear option: a leadership election; as the only option open to malcontents when the going gets tough."

I'm not sure I agree with all of tihs (anyone who remembers Labour's shadow cabinet elections and NEC elections will remember what a collossal waste of time and effort thay were), but one can certainly see the argument for more internal Conservative party democracy as a way of taking pressure off the leader. After all, a proxy battle is at least by proxy. Food for thought.

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Thursday, November 07, 2002

All new comments....

As part of our continuing drive to improve customer satisfaction and suchlike you can now comment on my burblings. How interactive is that? wow! Go on, you sods, say something.

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Why the Democrats and the Tories are in very different holes

Iain Murray, over at the Edge of England's Sword has a very interesting post comparing the political situation for The Tories and the Democrats. It's a compelling post, and a lot of the issues he mentions are useful to consider. However, It's as important to mention the differences in their respective plights if their startegists are to reach the right conclusions.

So first, the similarities. Iain does a good job of identifying these. Leadership. Seen as Party of the past, Loss of the centre, Loss of key issues. It is as true of the Democrats as it is for the Tories. But the situation is not the same. The Tories are in a much worse position than the Democrats

1. The depth of the hole.

The Tories have been hammered twice. In 1997 and 2001 Labour achieved a majority of over 150 seats. The Tories have had less than 170 MP's for 5 years now. This means a smaller talent pool, a poorer quality front bench and a reliance on the MP's elected by the most conservative areas of the country. In addition, the Conservative have absolutely no strength in the devolved administrations. Ther is no possibility of a charismatic Tory regional leader emerging who could re-establish the party. If Steve Norris did so, he would be seen in the same light as a Pataki- too Liberal for the broader party.

In contrast the Democrats have gone from being ahead by a percentage point in 2000 to being behind by 4 percentage points in 2002. It might be a disaster, but It's not a sustained catastrophe. The Democrat have 47 senators, over 200 congressmen and almost half the nations governors. The Tories would swap for this in an instant.

So, the Democrats have a much shorter road to travel. A 4% swing over the next 2 years could give them the Presidency, The House and the Senate. For the Tories to get to a hung parliament they need a swing of about 15%

2. The War impact.

Perhaps surpisingly, the war has had very little positive impact for the Labour party. The Party base is broadly opposed to American policy while the Leadership is engaged with it. The people in the country are generally unimpressed by the arguments for war and as unimpressed with the arguments for peace. Labour in power is not popular because of foriegn policy.

By contrast, the President is popular because of his reaction to the attacks on America. I don't think this is an anti-Democrat position, but a rally round the flag position. It motivates republican voters and appears to make marginal voters more likely to vote Republican. However, what khaki popularity gives, it can also take away, so again the Democrat position is less awful than the Conservatives.

3. Where's the Base?

The Democrat Base still appears to be solid. The Demcrats can claim fairly to represent Blacks, hispanics, Northern Blue Collar workers, Union members, Public sector workers and Urban residents pretty overwhelmingly. The Tories appear to have lost their base. urban professionals, White collar workers, Working class Blue Collar Conservatives, seaside towns, all seem to have deserted the party in droves. The Tories base now apears to have shrunk to pensioners, landowners and London fringe blue collar workers. In large areas of the country, (scotland, wales, the north) the conservative vote is now less than 15%.

4. The two way squeeze.

While the Democrats only have to face the Republicans and a motley assortment of independents and greens, the Tory safe seats are subject to a sustained assault from the Liberal Democrats. While it might seem odd that the Conservatives are under pressure from a party that most comentators regard as being to the left of Labour, the LibDems breathtaking political cycnicism and effective grassroots politics allows them to motivate the anti-Tory vote to come out (tactical voting) while also encouraging tories to flip sides for personal reasons. when you consider that there are now very few seats where the base Tory vote is over 55%, this makes almost an additional 20 or 30 Tory seats feel vulnerable (only 5 -10 really are, but try getting the activists to shift over to their nearest "target seat").

5. The values gap

I read a lot in Amercan Weblogs about the Blue America/Red America divide.

Well, it's not quite a cultural divide in the UK (I can't think of an issues like guns or abortion in the UK, except perhaps hunting, and even that's really a marginal issue.) However there is a significant values gap in the UK. People simply don't regard the conservatives as a party that is at all representative of Britain. It's not so much colour, or sex as attitude. When people think of the Tories they spontaneously mention estate agents, fox hunters, aristocrats, used car dealers, golf club members and city traders.

The Democrats don't have the same problem. They may be losing ground almost entirely amongst white men, be considered soft etc, but they are not seen as entirely distant from the real world. This is the reason that Portillo and IDs bang on about the inner city and the vulnerable so at least they're trying, but there still remains the perception that the conservative party s out of touch with the issues that matter.

6. The Opponents base strength

Simply put, before September the 11th, George Bush was not overly appealing to most moderates. He managed to squeak a victory, but He did markedy les well than any recent republican who did not face a third party challenge. Tony Blair on the other hand trounced the Tories, then jumped up and down on their bones. Tony Blair's ratings amongst weak conservatives are far stronger than Bush's amongst weak democrats even now, and that's post Sept 11th.

Simply put, Tony Blairs values are seen as close to that of the "typical" voter far more than George Bush is. Bush's popularity is sustained by the war, but all war popularity declines over time and his base support is fundamentally weaker than Blair's.

Labour has it's own weakness (no other labour leader has this crossover appeal, been in power longer, no way of blaming tories for failure) but so do the Republicans. They won a tight race this time round based on Presidential populrity derived from the war, but may be pressured to deliver for their base on issues mst voters would be surpprised to discover they had voted for (tax cuts, spending cuts, deficit spending, conservative judges, enviromental protection weakening), in which case it's quite possibly goodbye 2004.

So the GOP base support is smaller and war inflated, however this has given them a control of congress which they will have to use in ways voters don't expect. If the democrats can position themselves with a coherent alternative, they could make a big bunce in 04. Unfortunately for the Tories, Labour's mandate is bigger and neither war derieved nor war dependent, and if Labour even comes close to delivering on it's election promises, the Tories will still be marginal, no matter what they do.

None of this contradicts the advice Iain gives both the Democrats and the Tories. I'd endorse that advice, However, in the case of the Tories I'd be more demanding on the speed, depth and direction of that change.

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For those of you interested in watching the car crash..

While it may be entertaining to read a non- Conservatives views on the implosion that is the modern Conservative party, I can't help feeling that I am letting my small readership down. I mean that, despite my best efforts, I find it hard not to inwardly rejoice at the comical poorness of the Tory party leadership, the idiocy of the parliamentary party and the utterly conflicting advice offered to True Blue MP's by a bemused commentariat. Not only are the Tories lost in the forest, they keep finding that the breadrumb trail goes both forwards and backwards. They appear to resolve this by sitting down and crying.

So HoHo, says I. How funny. What good news. This does not serve you well, my friends. I feel you deserve some commentary from those who would like the Tories to do well. In this spirit and, by and by, just to prove how depressed the modern conservatives are, here are a couple weblogs and websites I'd recommend.

First of all, Electric Review, co-edited, (I believe) by ex-IDS staffers. Electiric Review tends to represent the point of view of those conservatives who expected a brave new dawn on the election of Mr Duncan Smith and have subsequently been greivously dissappointed. Unabashedly critical of Central office, Portilloites, tokenism in selection and any kind of so-called modernism, it deserves to be read religiously by Millbank operatives doing their opposition research.

Second, Conservative Commentary, which should have been on my links list, but wasn't. A silly mistake of mine, now corrected. Mr Cuthbertson is a man of socially conservative views (no libertarian he, methinks) who has shown only recently that he is capable of accepting that his desires must be compromised in the face of an overwhelmingly negative electorate. His call for the conservatives to hold free votes on all social issues shows a fine grasp of electoral tactics and strategy which I had previously not thought he was concerned with. He also has one of the best links lists for British Conservatives.

Obviously those Weblogs on my links list that are generally pro conservative are also wonderful and I encourage you to check in with them.

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Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Well, here we go.

Iain Duncan Smith did the unthinkable today. He declared a crisis, said that the future was the party was at stake, and then did nothing. There are rebels in his parliamentary party, but he did not expel them. Some MP's voted against him last night, but he did not discipline them. Some Shadow Ministers are openly contemptuous but he did not sack them.

Instead he told the party that it must unite or die. Quite right, but I don't expect to lose weight by simply telling myself I must eat less.

Instead he did the unforgiveable in the eyes of the Media, he got them excited then left them trying to explain something they did not understand. Every journalist in that room thought he was going to quit or do something exciting, then he put a pin in them and let the air out of them. I know, because I was getting excited about having predicted that he would quit, and I have absolutely no professional interest in covering that story.

Not only did IDS deflate an excited press, he failed to tell them what he did say actualy meant. As far as I can tell, there were no briefings to explain his remarks, no "line in the sand" style briefs that indicated any further indiscipline would be punished harshly and publicly. If you're going to speak in code, Iain, give the political editors a decoder or the self important little so and so's will torture you for making them take risks and make uninformed guesses on live national TV.

So what's the result of exciteing, then deflating the media and not telling them what it all meant?

Lets take a small sample of the early media reactions Iain Duncan Smith got today. It doesn't look good. Only Widdecombe was out there defending IDS today.

"They're out to get me" Sky news headline- 3pm

".. it was a Corporal Jones of a statement... ....a very strange error of judgement"- Matthew Parris Sky/Times

".. IDS effectively signing his own long term death warrant today" Michael Brown- Sky/ Independent

"...IDS effectively appealed to people in country to come & save him – well they’d better hurry .. at same time challenged critics to come & get him – danger is they may do just that" Andrew Marr- - BBC

"...My goodness doesn’t it bring you back to old days of the Labour Party?" Mark Mardell- BBC

"..big question mark over his leadership " - John Sargent- ITN

"...Talk is quite feverish that he might well not last til Xmas"- Guto Harri- BBC

On my part, I think the Tories are panicking. Iain Duncan Smith doesn't know what he is doing. If I was a Troy, today's statemnt would make me queue up to sign that letter.

One final point. American Political observers like Mickey Kaus have been talking about a "faster" politics in which the news cycle, issues changing, political developments go so fast it is somewhat disconcerting. I think this is one of the first examples of "Faster" politics in the UK.

As an example, Sky news are discussing which tories will be put up for media interviews, discussing the reaction to IDS's statement, and the "feeling at westminster". Now whatever the merits of the discussion, how does a Sky news reporter, who has been standing outside CCO for the whole time since IDS's statement, know what the feeling is in Westminster? Faster politics.

Now we cut to a Tory advance man being followed down the street by 3 cameras, being asked where the leader of the party is. The nature of the reporting exacerbates and strengthens the feeling of Crisis. IDS has made this worse by feeding the fire in a spectacularly stupid way, but it's important to remember that this "faster" politics is only talking to the afficionado's. Everyone else watches in confusion as the scrum pushes past them.

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My immediate reaction to IDS's statement

I think Iain Duncan Smith is now finished as conservative party leader. The media could barely contain their contempt at his press conference. Tory MP's can't possibly think he's up to the job. He now stands for precisely nothing other than unity. He might keep the job title, but he doesn't have the job.

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IDS blew it.
Well, what was the point of that? Unite or die? Well, yes, but around what? Why? what for? Is it a challenge to come out and fight?

That's desperate? It doesn't do anything.

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According to sky, looks like he's going to quit. Short, personal statement, no questions.

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News 24 are saying he can't resign and stand again. Damn, why can't he trigger a leadership election? Actually, If he made the PCP go for a leadership election I'm sure he could do it somehow.

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Just seen on News 24 that IDs will be making an announcement at 12.15. What is it. I wonder if he will be resigning? Have I just had the scoop of the year?

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If he wants to save his leadership. Iain Duncan Smith must quit.

After the events of last night (I'm not going to link. if you come here, you know what happened last night to the Tories) I have come to one concusion. The only way Iain Duncan Smith can resucue his leadership is to resign as leader.

Right now he is bleeding horribly. He is not seen as credble by the media pundits, he has Shadow cabinet members openly briefing against him, his MP's are in turmoil, the party in the country is looking at it's feet and telling him he's an awfully nice chap. This is not a leadership, it's a car crash.

If IDS tries to muddle through there are only two alternatives. First, 25 MP's sign a letter of no confidence. If that hapens IDS is finished. he will not get more than 60% of the PLP, probably even less. End of story. He would have to quit.

Alternatively, no letter is ever signed, and IDS is allowed to drag the dying corpse of the Tory party towars the guillotine of the next election. The next three years would be a trial of fire. Even if Labour suddenly became unpopular, the dysfunctional, self loathing, bitter, vicious traits that dominate the Conservative party would prevent Iain Duncan Smith taking anything more than the most temporary of comfort.

Don't believe me? The Secretary of State for Education resigned because she wasn't up to the job two weeks ago. You'd forgotten all about it, hadn't you? That's the next three years, right there.

OK, there is a third option, that IDS leads an intellectually and politically confident Conservative party to gains at the European, Local and Parliamentary elections. Now, that's what I call fantasy politics.

As I have said before, IDS's essential problem is that he ran as a hard right candidate, abandoned his base and failed to convince his new allies that he really believed in the same things he did. If this continues, he is finished as leader whether he retains the title or not.

So he needs to be re-elected on his new platform.

IDS should resign. NOW. He should walk out of Central office this lunchtime and say "There is a choice for the Conservative party. Moderate, socially Liberal conservatism or the resumption of the thatcherite battle of the 80s I am of the former camp. I will lead on that basis. If the party wishes a different policy, it should choose a different leader. therefore I am resigning as Leader effectively immediately, and i will stand as a candidate for election against any candidate who has a different vision for the party."

Certainly, there will be echoes of Major, but Major was seeking no change, IDS would be seeking the ratification of ideological and political change. It would flush out his oponents on the right (unattractive, unpopular) while forcing his new allies in the centre to bind themselves tightly to him.

It would be bold. It would be risky and it might just turn Iain Duncan Smith back into a leader.

What has he got to lose?

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Monday, November 04, 2002

Spying on the revolutionary left

The revolutionary left and trade unions were spied on by the British state in the 1970's and 80's. This was the essential revelation of a BBC documentary called True spies. In a marvelous Tribune article, Paul Anderson points out that if you were a member of the Workers Revolutionary party (dedicated to the violent overthrow of the British state) or the International Marxist group (ditto, but with more fashion sense), it's a little unfair to expect not to be spied on. As Paul says:

"Sorry, perhaps I’ve missed something, but if you spend your time boasting about how you and your comrades are going to smash the bourgeois state – or if, like the Communist Party of Great Britain, you’re bankrolled by and propagandise for a hostile superpower – can you really be too shocked when the bourgeois state decides to open your mail and sends along a couple of coppers in disguise to keep an eye on you?

Only if you’re a complete fool. "

Well worth a read, if only to prove that Left-wingers do have a sense of humour.

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Labour leaders not so secure..

Gregg Smith e-mails to point out that Labour leaders are not as historically secure as I had thought.
He is quite right. I can only plead stupidity.

"Only Kinnock has faced a challenge as Labour leader since WW2"
Erm... no. Gaitskell faced two (in 1960 and '61, IIRC) - first from Wilson
and then from Anthony Greenwood (or the other A. Greenwood, I forget which
was Anthony - Greenwood the Younger, either way). This was just after he'd
lead the party to a humiliating defeat in 1959, and there was widespread
fear in the consituencies that the party would cease to be unless it got a
decent, talented leader as soon as possible (of course, the PLP was quite
happy to continue under an unpopular right-winger who wanted to ally with
the Liberals and even some Tories... gosh, I hope these things go in

Despite my howler(s), I think the essential point still holds. Labour Leaders have never faced as many actual challenges as their Conservative counterparts. Considering that the Conservatives have only had leadership elections since the late 1960's, it marks a depree of instability in their system. Seperately, Gregg reminds me of the degree of conspiracy against the Attlee and Wilson leaderships, which was ever vicious, but never broke into a leadership bid.

Gregg also expresses very well the essential failure of the current Tory leader's political strategy.

"He's tried to adopt a centre-right manifesto,but those who support such a manifesto don't want him; those who did want him seem shocked by his new policies."


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Conservatives- Political party or therapy group?

What is going on? You go away for the weekend and the Conservative party implodes. Next thing you know Tory party activists will be burning effigies of their leader on Guy Fawkes. Since I've not commented for 5 days, a long post is required.

Last week, the papers are briefed that IDS is totally useless. IDS responds with his best PMQ performance of his career. Everyone realises that PMQ's don't make a damn difference. Then David Davis tells questiontime that he will "never challenge IDS", when any political anorak will tell you that Conservative party leadership rules make that prospect impossible (see post below for why). A perfect non-denial denial. Then Portillo's people tell the papers that he's turning up to the Commons because he's worried about a selection challenge from Madonna's mum in law and nothing to do with any conspiracy. I think he's just strolling around to say to his colleagues.. look at what you could have won.

IDS tries to stage a fightback by going to Oxford, but the local yokels get given their chance to say how useless he is, showing their MP's that IDS's soft underbelly really is exposed. It becomes clear that the Tory party is a state of fratricidal mania as IDS's people name the conspirators, who promptly stick two fingers back at CCO. (note to CCO press team, naming and shaming the conspirators doesn't make you look tough, it makes you look scared, and contradicts your "it's all a fantasy" line of last week.)

By this stage, the commentators are waking up, with the consensus being that

a) IDS is useless and the Tories need to get rid of him, replacing him with Davis/Clarke/Portillo/May/Uncle Tom Cobbley, but frankly anyone would be better than this chap.


b) The Tories would be mad to get rid of a leader who is taking steps in the right direction and how exactly would any of the above named make anything better?

Well, you pays your money and takes your choice. If I were a Tory MP, I'd be encouraging all of the plotters and leaders in waiting while privately begging Oliver Letwin to stand, knowing that I would be guaranteed an avalanche of positive media that would suddenly make him look like what the Tories really want, a leader who might win. (who isn't Ken Clarke). But then, my admiration for Letwin is probably one of the reasons I'm not a Tory MP (not being a Tory and all that).

I had thought that this week might have been a little less febrile as going back to the constituencies tend to have that effect on MP's. The local branch meeting will start with the chairman saying "Well, I don't know what that lot at westminster are up to, but I hope our MP can tell us why MP's are fighting like rats in a sack", but no la luta continua.

Every paper reports that Eric Forth, who is only on the front bench due to IDS's patronage, is using his position to stick two fingers up at IDS at every opportunity. It is calculated contempt.

Today John Bercow, who had been carving out a pleasant niche for himself as a former wild eyed ultra who had seen reason and the pleasures of moderation, decides to make a stand on adoption and quits, leaking his resignation letter as he goes, which will make us see which MP's will be absent for the vote as a guide to the moderates circle of influence.

One might think that this was part of a sustained destabilisation campaign, but the thought of Bercow and Forth stalking their weakened leader (oily and crazy, the deadly duo) is more ludicrous than I can say. Nope, the only conclusion one can draw is that pretty much every faction has decided that IDS isn't up to the job.

Of course, each faction has reached this conclusion for different reasons. The former IDS and Davis supporters think that their man has gone native, he's lost his interest in the things they care about and abandoned the strategy they expected from him. If this swing to the centre had swung the polls, they might have to eat humble pie, but IDS has gone to the middle and got no-where, which confirms their suspicions about the value of "New Conservatism".

The Portilloites, or whatever we should call them now, believe that IDS is roughly doing the right thing, but they don't think he really believes in it. Second, they think he's a bit thick and too dull. Finally, they think while he sees he need to change policy (and they will grudgingly concede the tories policies are on track) he doesn't see the need to remake the party. They want someone who will remake the party anew and charismatically force the party to come along, not one who will slowly, tediously, edge ploddingly down a moderate road. they belive that their strategy will swing the polls, but not when fronted by someone like that.

Lastly, there are the most important group of all. The careerists. If you've got a majority of less than 5,000, it's hard not to feel secure, even if you know that you represent a "rock solid tory seat". The MP's can feel the political ground shifting beneath them and they don't see where their support is coming from. They see local Liberals gaining seats on the council, a Labour party still confident, new estates springing up that will shortly be filled by exiles from London seeking cheaper housing, and they're not going to be tories, are they? These people are panicking and IDS is not making them feel better.

I don't think IDS is toast. I suspect he won't last the year now, but then the courage and co-ordination required to sign that no confidence letter would be unusual for the 1922 committee. If that happened, I've no doubt he would lose the no confidence vote. If IDS does stay on as leader, it will be as a walking wounded leader. In that sense, it's not worth having him as leader at all, because he's politically useless.

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