Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Portillo finds his niche

Like Iain Dale I thought last night's BBC4 documentary by Michael Portillo on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher was a riveting watch. The degree of self-awareness displayed by Portillo, Michael Howard and William Hague in particular as they picked over the bones of the Tories' wilderness years was fascinating.

Portillo seemed to have been very affected by the fact that his defeat in Enfield Southgate was voted the 3rd most popular TV moment ever. Was this, I wonder, when he began to lose his appetite for leadership, and ultimately for politics in general? If so I can't really blame him - we all want to be loved after all - and he's clearly more at home in front of the cameras.

Hague once again admitted that he should not have contested the leadership in 1997 and waited until 2001 instead, something that was pointed out to him at the time by yours truly along with a number of others. It was a great tragedy for the Tories that Ken Clarke was not leader in that Parliament. He would have taken the shine off Tony Blair in no time.

Howard's admission that he knew the party had to modernise, but that he knew he was the wrong person to modernise it, was the most intriguing of all. Howard is a smart guy, but surely he would have had the self-knowledge to realise BEFORE 2003 that he was personally ill-equipped for the task of modernisation - in which case you wonder why he took on the leadership at all?

The point of the programme was to examine the continuing legacy of Margaret Thatcher to the Tories. In crude terms, it was to help destroy the premiership of John Major, then ensure that the party elected the wrong leaders in both 1997 and 2001, thereby condemning them to their two heaviest defeats in recent history.

Despite all she achieved for her party as Prime Minister, this baleful contribution after leaving office always has to be weighed in the balance.

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Anonymous said...

Howard wasn't saying that in 2003 that he realised modernisation was the only way Tories could win.

He was saying he realised that NOW and that he had tested the old theory to destruction.

In any case it is a rather convenient argument as it lets him off the hook over not holding Blair to account over Iraq which was the real issue which dominated the 2005 Election. Portillo's views on Iraq would have been even more unpopular.

Also don't forget the shambles the Tories were in when IDS was forced out. Howard's main task was to bring professionalism back to the party which he did with aplomb.The defeat could have been much worse.

(out of interest and please feel free to ignore this question. When you were in the lobby did you earn more than MPs. Nick Robinson seems to be claiming that this is a majot factor in the backlash against the media by MPs over the speaker/expenses row)

Anonymous said...

Not sure that Ken Clarke would have been able to unite the party. He is well respected in political circles but I doubt he would have been able to shift Blair.

Paul Linford said...

Old boy

I am very happy to answer to answer your question, and I am afraid to say that Nick Robinson is talking complete bollocks.

Backbench MPs are on a basic salary of £61,820, leaving aside all the office allowances etc which have caused so much recent controversy. Nick Robinson would certainly have been on more than that, as would the political editors of the national newspapers and some big-name columnists (eg Parris, Oborne) but they make up only a small minority of the lobby as a whole. The great majority of political correspondents, including the entire regional lobby, most of the BBC staff, almost all of PA, and most of the national lobby below pol ed rank, would have been on less than £61,000 - some of them very considerably less.

Giles Marshall said...

I enjoyed the Portillo programme and thought he displayed, as you say, a warming level of self-awareness. As for Thatcher's legacy - and I speak as a TRG Tory here - it was not only the baleful one you describe, it was also to ensure the withdrawal of the Tories from the cities and much of the north; a devastating electoral position that even now has nnot shifted much.