So who is to blame for the state of the Conservative Party? Michael Heseltine has returned to the political scene with a bang this morning in an interview with the Independent.
Heseltine astutely observes that the party is suffering not only from a dud leadership under IDS but also from an extremist membership that could block any hope of the party regaining the centre ground.
“The members of the Conservative Party are repeating, in a worrying way, what happened to the Labour Party in the early 1980s. They have closed in on themselves and withdrawn to the more extreme wing of the party. You see that now in their selections for candidates for the European elections. You see it in elections for the leadership of the party. It is not working. We are at around 31 per cent in the polls when we would need to be at 48 to 50 per cent to have a ghost of a chance of winning the next election. There’s no prospect of achieving those ratings under the present management,” says Heseltine.
The solution is remarkably Blairite – if you don’t like your membership – ignore them and disenfranchise them. Heseltine suggests a seperate leadership for the parliamentry party to the party ‘in the country’ .
His hope is for a ‘dream ticket’ of Kenneth Clarke as leader with Michael Portillo as deputy – a line-up that would certainly worry Labour much more than current non-entities but one which would without doubt rile the right-wing of the party.
Of course Labour solved this problem by expelling Militant and closing down entire branches. It will be fascinating to see if the Tory party is in any way ready for the kind of bloodletting that would come from Heseltine’s proposal. I doubt it.