Cameron the Tories' best bet

IF anyone thought the result of last week's General Election had settled the shape of politics for a few years, they just need to look at the warfare that has broken out in Labour ranks, the positioning of the Tory modernisers, and the Liberal Democrats' recognition that their tax and spend policies turned off Middle England.

IF anyone thought the result of last week's General Election had settled the shape of politics for a few years, they just need to look at the warfare that has broken out in Labour ranks, the positioning of the Tory modernisers, and the Liberal Democrats' recognition that their tax and spend policies turned off Middle England.

Labour MPs have shown their gratitude at a record breaking third victory on the trot by lining up to knife Tony Blair in the front. Not for them Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's belief that Mr Blair was a "genius"' who had been the Labour Party's "salvation."

Just as public anger over the poll tax was the catalyst for Tory MPs to ditch Margaret Thatcher in 1990, so the Iraq War is being used by dissident Labour backbenchers to call for Mr Blair to step aside or face a leadership challenge.

John Austin, Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead who is considering standing as a "stalking horse" candidate to topple the Prime Minister, said: "There was a haemorrhaging of the Labour vote (at the election). People wanted to support Labour, but had misgivings about the Prime Minister. I think that was a fallout from the consequences of the Iraq war."


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Mr Blair will be a lame duck until he carries out his promise to step aside before the next election to allow an orderly transition to take place, the presumed beneficiary being Gordon Brown.

And that's the challenge for the Conservative Party, facing their fourth leadership contest in 8½ following Michael Howard's decision to quit in the autumn once the convoluted leadership contest rules are altered.

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The Liberal Democrats under Charles Kennedy frightened the horses in southern England with their "tax and spend" utopian policies. The Tories cleaned up in the London travel-to-work area – but to win power, they have to capture urban and suburban constituencies in the north and midlands.

The Conservatives need a personable, charismatic, likeable and above all electable leader, who is young enough to want to stay on after the next election should the Tories lose for a fourth time to Labour.

Of all the contenders, one stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Forget Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Dr Liam Fox – both are Scottish and the Tories, having won a bigger share of the vote in England at the election than Labour at the election, won't want to be saddled with a Scot to take on Gordon Brown and fend off Charles Kennedy.

Suffolk South MP Tim Yeo and new Party chairman Francis Maude are probably too left-wing and too modernistic to have any chance, but their One Nation views and environmental common sense must be taken into account if the Conservatives are to have any future.

Kenneth Clarke is too old at 64, John Redwood too right wing, Andrew Lansley at 48 could be the right age, is talented, appeals to the left and right, but would come off a poor second best against Gordon Brown.

David Davis at 56, a former territorial SAS officer who starts as favourite, is an incisive, astute politician but his right wing instincts are unlikely to appeal to the centre ground of British politics on which successful elections must be fought.

George Osborne, the new Shadow Chancellor, is 33, one of the Notting Hill set selling itself as the future soul of the Tory Party. He's one half of the so-called "Blair-Brown" Tory dream team, which leaves Conservatives gooey-eyed, but he's too young and would saddle the Tories with another William Hague.

And so we come to the other half of this dream team. David Cameron was the party's Head of Policy before the election and has been promoted to the Shadow Cabinet as education spokesman. Critics say he's to be too posh in these 21st century egalitarian times because he was educated at Eton, but that's utter nonsense. Just as you can't choose your sex, sexuality, colour of your skin or disability, a child can't choose his education.

Cameron is 38, former special adviser Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary, and is believed to be Howard's preferred choice. Married with a family, he's been MP for Witney in Oxfordshire for just four years and was returned last week with a majority of 14,156 – less talented colleagues regard his rapid promotion with more than a degree of jealousy.

Were the Tories to win the next election, he would be the same age as Tony Blair in 1997. The Conservatives have to bite the bullet, skip a generation, and unite behind David Cameron.

EAST of England Euro MPs Richard Howitt and Andrew Duff broke ranks with their Westminster parties this week when they voted to end Britain's opt-out on the working time directive.

Mr Howitt (Labour) raised the case of Suffolk nurse Mrs G. during the Strasbourg debate in which MEPs voted 378 to 262 in favour of forcing the UK to restrict working hours beyond48 hours a week. He said Mrs G. had explained to him that the current British arrangements "make a mockery of health and safety and family life."

Mr Howitt said he had no qualms at defying Tony Blair. "Just as it was right to bring in the minimum wage to combat the problem of poverty pay, it is now time to call time on excessive working houses which see workers bullied and exploited."

The Lib Dems Westminster spokesman on employment issues, Malcolm Bruce, urged the Government to prevent the change getting through the EU Council of Ministers, but Mr Duff said: "That's not my opinion – employment laws coming out of Brussels and Strasbourg have greatly improved the quality of working lives of the British people."

Tory and UK Independence Party MPs voted against ending the opt-out. East region Conservative Geoffrey Van Orden said: "The abolition . . . will have a devastating effect on British business. It will be a serious blow to the 2million workers who taken advantage of the right to choose how long they work and how much they earn."

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