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What is Malcolm Rifkind for?

Posted by Helen Monday, August 15, 2005

According to an article by Melissa Kite, Deputy Political Editor of the new all-singing, all-dancing Sunday Telegraph, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, newly elected member for Kensington and Chelsea, unsuccessful leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland and self-announced candidate for the party’s overall leadership, thinks that the party is in a cul-de-sac.

“The choice is whether we continued down the cul-de-sac of the last eight years or whether we choose an alternative conservative tradition.”
Well, of course, the whole point of a cul-de-sac is that you cannot actually continue down it. Sir Malcolm is not so much “grave” as Ms Kite puts it, as slightly incoherent and uninformative. For try as one might, the article does not tell one anything about that alternative conservative tradition that he favours.

It seems he is against the war in Iraq (for no very good reasons as he appears to know next to nothing about that country) and ID cards and thinks Mr Blair’s various anti-extremist announcements are “macho politics, that fails to impress”.

Maybe so, but what is Sir Malcolm suggesting? Not do anything about the extremist groups and organizations? That is the policy pursued by both John Major (the government Sir Malcolm adorned in various unsuccessful guises) and Tony Blair. It has got us into a rather difficult situation with bombs on London transport and armed police on the streets of the metropolis.

Perhaps Sir Malcolm has some other ideas on how to solve the crisis of British terrorism? If he does, he ain’t saying. Tar baby, he say nuffink.

What this particular Tar baby does say is:

“The last eight years have been deeply, deeply defective. There is no excuse that is convincing as to why a party that has been in opposition for eight years should be flat-lining in the way we are.

To have seen no increase in the Conservative share of the vote, despite eight years in opposition and despite the intense unpopularity of the Government, is indefensible.”
Exactly what we have all been saying, with the difference that we have very little say in the way the Conservative Party is run, whereas Sir Malcolm does. His reasoning that he has seen it all from the outside, having been out of Parliament of eight years is specious.

Out of Parliament but not out of politics and he has never ceased to be a rather ponderous, strangulated Tory grandee. His stewardship of the Scottish Conservative Party has not been inspiring and while his own vote in K&C is marginally higher than that of his predecessor, the turn-out is still only 50 per cent, with the Lib-Dim and Green vote also going up.

Alan Clark in 1997 got more votes and the turn-out in K&C used to be over 70 per cent. What has Sir Malcolm to say about that? As little as he has to say on other subjects, I shouldn’t wonder.

It seems that the people were not in tune with the issues the Conservative Party campaigned on earlier this year: immigration, asylum, Europe, crime and tax. Well, they were on crime but not the others.

No doubt that is why the opinion polls consistently showed a pro-Conservative bias every time Howard raised the subjects of immigration and asylum and why the other parties swiftly began to campaign on those issues as well.

And Europe? Well, there were those 30 seats that slipped out of the Tory fingers because of the UKIP, Veritas, English Democrat and BNP votes. But hey, what do the voters know? If Sir Malcolm Rifkind says that these were not issues that resonated with the electorate then they did not resonate. Got that?

So what are the issues that would resonate? Ah, I am glad you asked that question. It is a question whose time has come. The trouble is the time for answers from Sir Malcolm has not come. No indication of what he thinks the party should be talking about.

What would he do if he were elected to be leader? Errm, he would launch a nationwide consultation of public sector workers. Excuse me? A consultation of the people who have a vested interest in keeping the public sector in the state’s hands and ignore the consumers? That is a Conservative policy? Well, not so much a policy, more a leadership election plank.
“I would spend the first 18 months bringing to the party the vast expertise of the country as a whole. We have to win over the professionals. We haven’t done that in the past.”
A winner, that one. You have an inefficient, wasteful, unproductive public sector that everyone complains about and you intend to solve matters by consulting the providers. What of a reform in the system? Ah well, that would not resonate with the electorate.

Someone should tell Sir Malcolm that the “professionals” of the public sector, whoever they may be, is not the same as “the country as a whole”.

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