Bill's Archived Comments

Monday, 5th November 2001

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Henry McLeish, Scotland's First Minister (but for how long?)

The developing story of how Henry McLeish's constituency office in Fife was managed (and financed), whilst he was an MP, continues to run. On Thursday evening, he said (looking 'cornered'): "I have apologised and I have said this was an error, and I take full responsibility." The first minister added: "I regret very much what has happened but I don't want that to detract for a minute from the achievements of the second year of devolution."

Poor Mr McLeish seems to confuse his interests with those of the Scottish nation (one could almost hear him saying "L'Etat, c'est moi"). But of course he is merely the First Minister of the Scottish Executive, and as such he is accountable to his masters, the people of Scotland, through their representatives in the Scottish Parliament. Whether he has done anything 'wrong' (in terms of having derived a personal benefit) is not known, and one sincerely hopes unlikely, but the way he has allowed the impression to grow that he does have something to hide is unfortunate - a full and detailed statement to the Scottish Parliament could, one suspects, have resolved the matter, but he asked for a debate (his "put up or shut up" challenge was sad to see) and the Scottish Conservatives have obliged by agreeing to use their half-day debate next week for the purpose.



Scottish First Minister, 'New' Labour's Henry McLeish, today resigned amidst continuing revelations about the way the finances of his constituency office were handled. Overnight, it appears HE was informed of a sixth sub-let to add to the five we knew about, after having the information dragged from him piecemeal and seemingly through gritted teeth.

It seems that the so-called neutral 'apologists' on BBC Scotland and the Daily record will now have to rewrite their scripts! But, remarkably, the 'apologists' continue to peddle their noisome views on BBC Scotland as I write, still attempting to play down the scandal.

Now we must wait to hear whom, from amongst 'New' Labour's apparatchiks in Scotland a successor First Minister, will be chosen. The name of Jack McConnell seems to be the most widely mentioned - yet another representative of the socialist 'nomenklatura' who rule our unfortunate country!

(There are later developments in this saga (March 2002), relating to Mr Mcleish's candidature for the next elections to the Scottish Parliament scheduled for May 2003 - click here to go there now.)

Whither the Conservative Party? (again)

On Saturday (3 November) there was a very interesting programme about the recent history, and possible future, of the Conservative Party on television. I imagine it will have proved painful viewing for most members of the Conservative Party, something which (since my recent resignation) I am spared. It was I think a pretty unsparing, but impartial, dissection of the different strands of opinion which have formed the recent past of the Party. I cannot claim to be totally impartial, or anything like it, but I nevertheless think there are some conclusions to be drawn.

Francis Maude considered that the 'spin doctors' who surrounded William Hague were intent on spreading disinformation about him and about Michael Portillo, by implying that Portillo (aided and abetted by his supporters, such as Maude) was plotting against William Hague and that nothing they could say, or do, would convince the 'spinners' that there was no substance in this. Curiously, Anne Widdicombe said something which almost supported Francis Maude, although I am sure that this was not her intention (see further on in this article).

In the early stages of his leadership, William Hague seemed to promise a more 'inclusive', 'modernised' Party; a number of incidents soon after he became Leader, however, seemed to damage irrevocably his prestige and he seemed, instead, increasingly to espouse more 'right wing' views. Whether this represented his own leanings is difficult to say and many who know him say it did not, but the outward evidence seems difficult to rebut completely. My view is that he realised that the 'traditionalist' viewpoint was too strong within the Party, much stronger than he realised initially, and that the only way he could survive was to adopt the policies the 'traditionalists' were unwilling to see modified - some say this was expediency and did not represent his own true views (which according to this interpretation remained those of a 'moderniser'), but if so he gave no external sign that this was so. Frankly, I do not believe it.

Now, what Anne Widdicombe said in the programme that I found interesting was that Hague 'locked himself up with his advisors and did not engage with his Shadow Cabinet' and became isolated, therefore, from what they (with all the different strands of opinion that they represented) were thinking. Paradoxically, this seems to support what Francis Maude implied. I think that what this all boils down to is that William Hague, whilst undoubtedly a very clever man and clearly a skilled orator, showed that he had poor judgement in selecting those who advised him, and in being able to differentiate what were the important topics to base his platform on. In all the programmes I have seen, Amanda Platell seems to have been, and remains (in spades), a malign influence. Perhaps there are others who, behind the scenes, were more influential than she, but her high profile role during his Leadership and efforts to remain so since he announced his decision to step down certainly makes one wonder whether, whatever his other undoubted good qualities, William Hague ever had the capacity to lead the Conservative Party effectively.

A central theme of the programme was the influence of Margaret Thatcher since she was forced to stand down as Leader of the Party; a particularly telling sequence showed her rebutting, reasonably effectively  it must be admitted in the argument she put forward, the notion that the UK should adopt the Euro - but it was the manner in which she did so that was rather sad; a finger jabbed into the other person's chest and a somewhat 'ga-ga' glint in her eye accompanied by a surprisingly wavering voice. In addition, and cruel as it may have been, the replaying several times of a sequence showing an elderly gentleman gesticulating with his walking stick during a reception for a clearly somewhat embarrassed Iain Duncan Smith, reinforced the (accurate) impression of the advanced age of a high proportion of the Party's membership; however important this segment of the population is (and demographics over the next few decades will increase this importance), this does not mean that the views of this segment can be favoured exclusively, to the exclusion of the differing views of younger segments of the population.

Unfortunately, the imbalance in the age profile of the Conservative Party's membership in relation to the population as a whole has now became so huge that the possibility of introducing modernising views has become increasingly remote as the acquiescence of the existing membership would be required. And so the Party has elected Mr Iain Duncan Smith as its Leader.

He is, undoubtedly, one of the most right-wing leaders of a mainstream British political party in recent decades. Even if he wished to do so, a highly speculative notion in my view, efforts by him to introduce policies that might attract a reasonable number of younger members would be not at all certain to succeed. Radical policies, assuming he was able to introduce them and survive as Leader, would probably result in mass defections to more overtly extremist parties. The Party's reliance, too, on a small number of (pretty right-wing) wealthy individuals for a significant proportion of its funding makes his options unenviably narrow, if the Party is to have a hope of remaining financially viable. I think the Conservative Party will have to fall a lot further before action to reform itself is forced upon it - possibly with the 'help' of a Labour Party increasingly unpopular with the electorate, but there are no real signs of this happening to any significant degree in the next several years unless there are pretty dramatic developments - for example if the economy takes a nosedive because of the current fragile international situation. Not a rosy prospect.

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