Where next for democracy?
The New Republic analyses potential Democrat candidates for the 2008 elections (registration required, or try BugMeNot). Dismissing the ones who've had a lot of speculation already – the likes of John Edwards, Howard Dean, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama – they've tried to think laterally, and so come up with some interesting (and decidedly obscure for non-Americans) choices: Phil Bredesen, Mike Easley, Kathleen Sebelius, Jim Doyle, Ed Rendell, Dick Durbin, Phil Angelides, Jennifer Granholm, Mark Warner and Tom Vilsack.
Of these, Phil Bredesen already has his fans, and even the mighty Daily Kos has been impressed by Mark Warner. Perhaps there's hope for the Dems yet.
But this got me thinking. Where the hell are the Tories going to go after Michael Howard's near inevitable defeat next year? Fans of Boris Johnson know full well that he will never be leader of the party, and most of the Shadow Cabinet are going to be too sullied with the aftermath of Duncan-Smith and Howard to gain any credibility. David Davis? Popular with the party, but then so was Duncan-Smith - and the major need is to attract people who aren't "natural" Tory voters. David Cameron? Too ex-public schoolboy – exactly the image they need to shake. Oliver Letwin? Too much of a tit and too prone to saying stupid things at precisely the wrong moment, despite being very bright. David Willetts? Freak. Tim Yeo? Nice chap in person, but no public credibility. Caroline Spellman or Theresa May? Not enough like Maggie for them to risk another woman for a while. John Redwood? Not a hope in hell. Nicholas Soames or Michael Ancram, likewise - even though Ancram has his plus points. David Maclean? Too scary and unknown. Tim Collins? Dr Who fan – need I say more?
From the current Shadow Cabinet I'd go for the zero-profile Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, of whom no one's ever heard. State school educated, media experience (vital these days, as we all know), and a former Civil Servant. He looks like a middle manager of a provincial supplies company, so could gain a George W Bush-style "everyman" appeal. Or how about Liam Fox? Nice chap, military experience, and a GP - and considering the state of the NHS it'd be quite handy having someone in charge who knows what they're talking about.
Then there's the rest of the buggers. In amongst this there are still some big names, but the obvious choices - Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo - have ruled themselves out after repeated rejections by the party faithful, and the pipedream hope of some Tories of a return for William Hague seems unlikely - at least within the next ten years or so. Or should they go for lesser names, like Crispin Blunt, John Bercow, or the young blood likes of Jonathan Djangoly or Mark Prisk? Or what about Malcolm Rifkind - soon to return in Portillo's utterly safe Kensington and Chelsea seat after seven years in the political wilderness? Experienced, largely untainted by the successive disasters of the post-1997 years, and still popular with the party faithful.
But the trouble with almost all of these people is that they have done little or nothing to suggest they can appeal to non-Tories, and a fair few would also have trouble winning over the party faithful which, until they can remove the vote from the ordinary members which resulted in the Duncan-Smith debacle, will be vital.
The average Conservative party member doesn't want to see the party head for the centre, but to the right. This is precisely why they opted for the massive electoral liability that was Iain Duncan-Smith over the more centrist, politically experienced and realistic Clarke and Portillo. These are the people who are tempted by the UKIP. But at heart all they want is want a tough stance on Europe (mostly while remaining part of the EU), the cutting back of immigration and crime, a curtailing of government micro-management, and support for small businesses. Perhaps Alan Duncan might be the way forward - openly gay, so could win over the centrist liberal vote, good-looking on camera, in favour of small government, comes across quite well, and has kept a fairly low profile recently.
Where next for the Tories? They were once the natural party of government and most of the country was largely sympathetic to their emphaisis on the individual. This is the party of Disraeli, one of the finest politicians this country has produced. In this age of increasing class divides and the collapse of the post-1945 welfare state as benefits, pensions and the NHS become increasingly chaotic and inefficient, a return to Disraeli's rhetoric about "two nations" may well be needed. The Democracts tried it briefly in the run-up to the Presidential election, but seemed not to push it that hard, instead foolishly focussing on foreign policy.
It's the economy, stupid - and it always is. Gordon Brown looks to be gettig himself into trouble, increasing regulations from both Westminster and Brussels are causing small businesses immense harm, and the Tories need to step into the breach to explain to a nation which doesn't really understand the economy precisely how this is going to damage their interests, and present clear and simple alternatives.
But to be honest, for the life of me I can't see an easy route back to power for the Conservative party. We need them - or a decent alternative - or we are going to be stuck with a Labour government, which most people now distrust and dislike, for the forseeable future. But there's currently no alternative, the Tories are as disliked as they ever were under Thatcher, they seem to have no active policies, hardly anyone in the 18-50 age bracket seems to be planning on voting for them, and this lack of a viable opposition can only be bad for democracy.
With a General Election now only six months away (most likely), for the first time since I have been eligable to vote I am seriously considering not bothering. After all, why vote for someone you don't believe in?