The Tories have rounded upon Michael Heseltine after his call yesterday for the parliamentary party to get rid of Iain Duncan Smith and the language being used illustrates again the bitter divides within a party once considered ‘the natural party of government’.
There is a trend for eighties nostalgia in pop music at the moment with The Human League, Five Star and Kim Wilde all on tour and this eighties revival is crossing-over into politics – Heseltine returns and so Norman Tebbit is brought out to bark back at him.
Indeed we are seeing quite a lot of Tebbit of late, he was on Question Time last week and he has been doing a number of newspaper interviews. The former Tory chairman denounced Lord Heseltine as “a serial Conservative assassin”. He said: “It cannot be a coincidence that just as the Blairs are floundering in a sea of sleaze, lies and incompetence, Michael Heseltine comes to their rescue with an attack on the Conservative leadership. He did it to William Hague. Indeed, he did it to Margaret Thatcher. I suspect he would do it to any leader except Michael Heseltine.”
Good old Norm, he never pulled any punches and it is great to see him back adding a bit of life and colour to the Tory infighting. And is this not classic Trot talk? “It cannot be a coincidence?” – a clear accusation of betrayal of being a fifth-column.
But there should be a limit to this revivalism – do we really need to hear from the odious Sir Norman Fowler again? What next Kenneth Baker?
Of course the most strikingly eighties aspect of all this is the very obvious comparison (made by many people already) between the modern Tories and Labour under Michael Foot and the early Kinnock years.
Iain Murray on Edge of England’s Sword rejected the view that there is a similarity between the extremists in local Tory parties and the Trotskyite Militant tendency in the Labour Party in the eighties he said: “The comparison to Militant is ludicrous. Militant did not represent the wishes of the average member of the Labour Party and Hezza used to say as much”.
There is a limit to this analogy of course. In Labour the problem I think was not so much with party members attitude to Militant but the public’s. The average Labour Party member in the mid-eighties quite liked the Militant proposal of nationalising the top 200 monopolies. They may not have warmed to Militants style and method (who could?) but the fact that Militant was able to worm its way to positions of influence showed two things – 1. A latent sympathy to these ‘good socialists’ among many on the left and 2. The moribund nature of so many consituency parties which allowed the hard left to easily take control.
The fact for the Tories, who have a fair few moribund local parties, is that they too are not connecting with voters. However much people may be disappointed by Labour or turned of by the Blair clan there is little sign of this converting itself into popular support for the Tories – the choice within the Tory party is remarkably similar to the one that Labour faced with one crucial exception.
The Clarke-Portillo Tories (like the Labour modernisers of the past) want to move to the centre ground in a bid to connect with potential voters while their opponents (like the old left) believe a more radical (in their case particularly anti-Euro) approach will attract greater support. However Labour was able to capture the centre ground under Smith and then Blair because it was perceived to have been vacated. Now Labour firmly occupies the centre – is their room for the Tories?
As a final thought on this – one thing that really riled me in the eighties was Tories who lectured the Labour Party on how to run its affairs – as if they cared. I am not going to take sides in this battle – I don’t support the Tories at all and while I agree that a lively and effective opposition aids a healthy democratic debate the battle that concerns me is the one to win Labour back to some decent social-democratic principles.
As far as the Tories are concerned I think I shall sit back and enjoy the nostalgic experience of all the colourful language, bitter accusations of betrayal and entertaining in-fighting – and after Heseltine, Tebbit and Fowler, I can’t wait to see who is going to be next up. Is she up to it?