Screaming blue murder

The Tory leadership contest may have high entertainment value - but its outcome will have little political significance.

Sandy Starr

Topics Politics

As the Tory leadership contest descends into bickering and squabbling, one thing is certain – its outcome will do nothing to reverse the party’s irrelevance to British politics today.

Without any realistic prospect of the party becoming electable, the leadership contest has been reduced to the level of entertainment. Tuning in to the latest round of infighting has become a bit like watching Big Brother – or at least like watching Video Nation. Former Tory press secretary Amanda Platell’s election video diary was shown on Channel 4 on 15 July 2001, giving the media more to sink their teeth into and helping to derail Michael Portillo’s leadership bid.

Portillo’s colleague Francis Maude was quick to respond: ‘If Amanda Platell had spent half as much time attacking the Labour Party as she has for the past two years trashing William [Hague’s] senior colleagues, we would have had a rather better result.’ (1) But disloyal behaviour is not limited to Portillo or Platell. Now that the Conservative Party has lost its significance and coherence, petty squabbles have become the norm.

This became even clearer when former prime minister Margaret Thatcher got into an undignified spat with Portillo, dismissing claims that he had her support. Just as in the election campaign, Thatcher was being used as a stage prop to invoke the heyday of Conservative rule. But attempts to resurrect traditional loyalties are doomed in a party that has become a clique of bickering individuals, has lost its core support, and has no place in the current political landscape.

The leadership race continues to make headlines, despite its irrelevance to most people’s lives – and not just because it is entertaining. The British media has not yet caught up with the magnitude of the Conservative Party’s collapse (2). And, in an era of dull politics, the leadership race continues to masquerade as a clash of competing policies – despite the phoney nature of the Euro issue that supposedly distinguishes the candidates’ views.

‘It should be said bluntly that Mr Clarke is the only candidate of the three who is guaranteed to split the party’, said a solemn editorial in the Daily Telegraph (3). The party doesn’t need any help on that front. The Conservatives are already tearing themselves apart – and will continue to do so whoever wins the leadership contest.

Read on:

Final verdict: We know who lost, but who won?, by Mick Hume

Torn Tories, by Sandy Starr

The Conservatives’ life support system by Sandy Starr

(1) ‘Tory battle turns even bloodier’, Daily Express, 16 July 2001

(2) See The Conservatives’ life support system by Sandy Starr

(3) ‘A man you can believe’, Daily Telegraph, 16 July 2001

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Topics Politics


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