Tories should follow the Patten pattern

FORMER Tory Chairman Lord (Chris) Patten hit the nail on the head this week when he said: "The Conservative Party keeps on electing leaders of the Opposition and it's about time we elected somebody who would be a Prime Minister.

FORMER Tory Chairman Lord (Chris) Patten hit the nail on the head this week when he said: "The Conservative Party keeps on electing leaders of the Opposition and it's about time we elected somebody who would be a Prime Minister."

And referring to the constant drip-drip of speeches from would-be leaders to replace Michael Howard, he added: "I don't think the Conservative Party does itself any favours by talking to itself."

It certainly does not. As Nicholas Boles, defeated candidate in Hove, says in a C-Change report, if the Tories do not get a handle on the mood of the nation and the beliefs of the modern day voters, they face being eclipsed by the Liberal Democrats.

My soundings of the new intake of Tory MPs is that they do understand that. I'm not so sure that those who've been at Westminster for a number of years realise that their party is facing the abyss.


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The dilemma facing Tory MPs when they choose the successor to Michael Howard – assuming the party's convention on September 27 backs proposals to stop rank and file members having a say – is which candidate is capable of beating both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The assumption is that the Chancellor will take over sometime before the next election, but if Mr Blair remains, the task will be that much harder.

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They need to choose someone who is in for the long haul, someone who will fight the election after next.

The Conservative Party cannot afford to dump yet another leader if it loses the next election, likely to be in 2009 but which does not have to take place until 2010.

Over the summer, a number of leading Tories will be considering whether to try to become leader. These include Theresa May, David Willetts, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Michael Ancram, Kenneth Clarke and Suffolk South MP Tim Yeo. The final choice, however, is almost certain to come down to David Cameron, David Davis or Dr Liam Fox

Lord Patten believes the Tories would have won in May if EU enthusiast Kenneth Clarke had been the leader.

"The result of this year's General Election was particularly depressing for the Tories because the Government was vulnerable over the Iraq war.

"Had Kenneth Clarke been party leader, he would now be Prime Minister. I think it's possible that if Europe hadn't prevented the best candidate from being elected leader in 2001 and again in 2003, we could have won the election,"

He implied that Shadow Education Secretary David Cameron should take over from Howard. Describing him as "a good human being," Lord Patten added: "I suspect that David Cameron will be thought more charismatic as a potential leader and it may be time to jump a generation and go for someone much younger."

We'll know in November if the Tories have opted for someone destined merely to be opposition leader or someone with the character and skill to take on Labour and defeat it, even if it's in eight to 10 years' time.

A LEGAL ARGUMENT

OOPS! As Tony Blair steps up his war on terror, which could involve locking up suspects for 16 weeks before being charged, wife lawyer wife Cherie says the July 7 London incidents should not be allowed to undermine the commitment of democratic states to human rights. She said judges played a vital role in protecting the public against executive power and hailed the Law Lords for overturning the Government's policy of detaining terror suspects without trial last December. Courts had to "act as guardians of the weakest, poorest and most marginalised members of society against the hurly-burly of Mr Blair insists there is no matrimonial disagreement. "I think I have said myself that it is important that we balance these things - civil liberties for people."

PARLIAMENTARY ANSWERS

CHELMSFORD Primary Care Trust received £79 more for each resident than neighbouring Maldon and South Chelmsford in the last financial year, according to figures given to John Whittingdale, the Tory MP for Maldon & Chelmsford East.

He had asked how much funding "per capita was given to each primary care trust in Essex in 2004-5 and in a written Commons reply, junior health minister Rosie Winterton said Tendring received the most, £1,068, while the least went to Maldon and South Chelmsford PCT. £773.

Neighbouring Chelmsford was given £852 and figures for other PCTs in the county were: Basildon, £1,002; Billericay, Brentwood and Wickford, £875; Castle Point and Rochford, £866; Colchester, £830; Epping Forest, £959; Harlow, £1,042; Southend-on-Sea, £1,034; Thurrock, £873; Uttlesford £787; and Witham, Braintree and Halstead Care Trust £798.

MORE than 3,000 complaints were made against Essex constabulary between 1999-2000 and 2004-5. Home Office minister Hazel Blears, in a written Commons reply, told Southend West MP David Amess that in 1999-2000 there were 538 complaints, in 2000-01 549, 540 in 2001-2, 436 in 2002-3, 500 in 2003-4 and 590 in 2003-4.

HOME Secretary Charles Clarke, in a written Commons reply, said that in the five years from 1999-2000 to 2003-4, there were 2,190 "recorded offences of assault on a police constable" in Essex and 1,480 in Suffolk.

IN another Home Office reply, it was revealed that the number of drivers prosecuted for driving with no insurance in Suffolk in 2001 was 2,310, in 2002 it was 2,594 and in 2003 the figure was 3,225. Equivalent figures in Essex were: 2001, 5,076; 2002, 5,152; and 2003, 4,791.

FINAL POINTS

THE Commons Bill, which reforms the registration and management of common land, has received an unopposed second reading in the Lords.

Junior environment minister Lord Bach said the Bill was essential and long overdue if common land was to be protected for future generations. There seemed to be widespread support for the Bill in most parts of the country, which was important, considering the "vast amounts" of common land in England and Wales.

He conceded that it might be possible to improve some parts of the Bill and gave an undertaking that during the Parliamentary summer recess, his department would continue to work with stakeholders and Parliamentary counsel to see if amendments were necessary.

DEPUTY Prime Minister John Prescott has lost another part of his empire. Responsibility for the Boundary Commission for England, the independent body which reviews parliamentary constituency boundaries, has been given to the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

SUMMER HOLIDAY

A WEEK in Politics takes a summer break and returns for the party conference season.

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