United against the yellow peril

WHOEVER leads the Labour Party into the next General Election will have one aim in common with David Cameron - to marginalise and cripple the Liberal Democrats.

WHOEVER leads the Labour Party into the next General Election will have one aim in common with David Cameron - to marginalise and cripple the Liberal Democrats.

If it's Gordon Brown, as seems probable, he will be seeking his own long-awaited mandate from the British people and certainly won't want the Lib Dems queering his pitch in Labour's heartlands.

It is also vitally important for Mr Cameron to see off the Liberal Democrats on the gravel drives of the Greater London, the South East, and the South West. If the Conservatives are to make real inroads into the Labour vote at the next election, they will not want to fight the election having to watch their backs for a Liberal Democrat surge.

At least half the current Lib Dem MPs are highly vulnerable to either the Tories or Labour, and the strategists of both parties are independently working out the best way to attack the yellow peril.

For Labour and the Lib Dems, David Cameron's election to lead the Tories was the worst possible news. They feared Kenneth Clarke, but knew they could easily beat the Tories if lead by David Davis, Dr Liam Fox, or Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

But Cameron is an unknown quantity who has the capacity to galvanise the imagination of the electorate in the same way as Tony Blair did. Cameron can unite the Tories for first time since the late 1980s, and the party's hunger for power is likely to make them a formidable fighting force next.

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The stakes are high. Tory gains from Labour, the Lib Dems and perhaps the Scottish Nationalists could wipe away Labour's current overall majority, leading to a hung Parliament.

The last thing Messrs Brown and Cameron want is to be in hock to the Lib Dems to form a Government.

Pointers to the success of Mr Cameron in halting the decline in Tory fortunes will come in May next year when the London boroughs go to the polls and 12 months later when all England's shire districts hold elections.

The last time the seats were contested, the Tories did not make the headway they had hoped for in London but did spectacularly well in the shires. Since then, there have been mixed by-election results and the Conservatives will be under pressure in areas such as Mid Suffolk.

And each May, the urban metropolitan and unitary councils will be holding elections - it is essential for their future that the Conservatives start making massive inroads into these Labour heartlands.

Clouding over all this is the uncertainty of just when Tony Blair will quit. He's announced he'll go sometime before the next election, which need not take place until May 2010.

Mr Brown cannot establish himself until he's handed the keys of 10 Downing Street. The later the handover takes place, the more time Mr Cameron has to establish himself as a major force and a Prime Minister in waiting.

NEIGHBOURLY friendliness was not the order of the day when, just days before new Conservative leader David Cameron ushered in a new era of enlightenment and consensus, Tory MP John Gummer (Suffolk Coastal) had a dig at Labour's Chris Mole (Ipswich).

Discussing the Council Tax (New Valuation Lists for England) Bill, Mr Gummer and other Tories were furious that not one Labour MP could be bothered to attend a debate which is of crucial significance in the south and east of the country where house prices are sky high.

Phil Woolas, the Minister of State in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, had to attend, as did his bag carrier, Chris Mole, who holds the unpaid position of Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mr Woolas.

“Even though the Minister is bereft of support on the Labour Benches,” began Mr Gummer, before being interrupted by Mr Mole. Undaunted, the Suffolk Coastal MP continued: “Of course, the hon. Member for Ipswich is sitting behind the Minister.

“The hon. Gentleman's tenacious support for Government policy, contrary to the interests of his constituents, has got him where he is, and will no doubt get him further very soon.”

Mr Gummer unabashed went on: “That is why he has not been fighting for his local hospital, although I have. Honourable members should understand that Mr. Deputy Speaker” - Sir Michael Lord (MP for Suffolk Central and Ipswich North) who was chairing the debate - “and I share the same hospital.”

I say, rather below the belt, what - suggesting an MP is furthering his political career at the expense of his constituents.

More uncharitable behaviour yesterday when Labour MP Dennis Skinner was thrown out of the Commons chamber after accusing Shadow Chancellor George Osborne of snorting cocaine.

As he complained about the state of the economy under Tory governments of the 1980s, he said: “The only thing that was growing then were the lines of coke in front of boy George and the rest of the Tories.”

Speaker Michael Martin demanded he withdraw his accusation but Mr Skinner added: “That was in the News of the World and you know it.”

Mr Martin's repeated demand that he take it back was met with a curt: “No, I'm not withdrawing it . .. it's true”' at which the Speaker said he must either do so or leave the chamber. “I order you to leave the chamber,” he eventually said, before officially naming the MP, the official procedure for expelling him from the Chamber.

TORIES IN JAIL: Mike Penning, MP for Hemel Hempstead , and Ipswich born and educated David Gauke, MP for Hertfordshire South West, will each spend a night in Her Majesty's Prison The Mount, Bovingdon on January 19 . However, the stay is not as a consequence of a criminal conviction but in support of The Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted, which caters for much of the East of England.

“The Hospice is moving site in the next couple of years and needs to raise £2m to fund the development,” said Mr Gauke. “By taking part in the sponsored night in jail, we hope to be able to help raise funds”

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