Monday 19 November 2012

The 1997 Conservative Leadership Race begins

The question of reform of the Party’s constitution will run and run but in the meantime we have to get on with the urgent task of electing a new Leader. Word reaches me via Mike Penning that there is increasing frustration in the Redwood camp due to the antics of one Hywel Williams – shades of 1995! (see Whips Nightmare p. 158-166) – thus reinforcing my resolve not to get involved. In spite of that decision, on 3rd June, in company with Teddy Taylor and Teresa Gorman, I attend John Redwood’s press conference in the Grand Committee Room. JR’s delivery is frankly wooden but he loosens up during the Question and Answer session where I express the opinion that saying ‘NO’ to the Single Currency six months ago might have prevented the mass defections that we suffered at the polls on 1st May but that to get those people back onboard it will now be necessary to go much further and offer the electorate the prospect of getting out of the collectivist EU altogether.
Earlier in the day Jonathan Collett, Campaign Director of the Bruges Group, who very generously gave several days of his time to help me during the election campaign, has told me that they are backing Peter Lilley but feels sure that they would switch to anyone who was prepared to stand on an ‘Out of the EU’ ticket. For my part I say that I haven’t ruled out the possibility of doing just that and Jonathan rings back the following morning to say that his chairman, Dr Martin Holmes, is enthusiastic that I should.
In conversation with ITN’s Political Editor, Michael Brunson, he expresses the opinion that if an ‘Out of Europe’ candidate stands for the leadership it will indicate a total lack of unity within the Conservative Party although he recognises the strength of the arguments in favour of the idea, not the least of which are the millions of voters who are currently disenfranchised on this issue.
On the morning of June 4th Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) pulls out of the leadership race and later in the day holds a joint press conference with Ken Clarke (Rushcliffe). The following day the five remaining candidates are invited to make their case in front of the ’92 Group. In the event, Ken Clarke’s presentation is appalling, Wm. Hague (Richmond) and Peter Lilley (Hitchen & Harpenden) are unconvincing and so the choice appears to be between Michael Howard and John Redwood who excels himself by making by far and away the best presentation of them all. Earlier in the day he has attended a meeting of the ‘Group of Eight’ where, in vino veritas after a most agreeable Livery & Court Luncheon at Butchers Hall, I tell him that if I had his intellect I would also be a contender simply because of the absence of any other candidate saying what the voters want to hear us say. As a result of this meeting Teddy Taylor pledges his support to JR, leaving only Teresa Gorman, Richard Shepherd and myself as yet uncommitted. At the lunch one of my fellow Liverymen tells me that he didn’t vote for Rupert Allason in Torbay because of his arrogance – Rupert lost by 12 votes!

from CRACKING THE WHIP - the fast-paced political memir by Christopher Gill, former MP for Ludlow and Maastricht Rebel

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