by Stephen Tall on August 16, 2005
The tale of the current Tory Party’s woes makes for grim reading. So what could be more fun than to give it a Grimm reading? (We’ll leave that question hanging.)
Although there are currently 89 Tory MPs vying for the coveted post of ‘The-next-Conservative-leader-not-to-become-Prime-Minister’, there are only seven candidates with a cat in hell’s chance. So here they are, in glorious technicolour, the Seven Dwarves who aim to awaken the slumbering Snow White – who, in this crow-barred analogy, represents the British electorate – from her poisoned narcolepsy.
1) Our first ‘heigh-ho’ belongs to David Cameron, or Bashful as he shall henceforth be known. Bashful has enjoyed a meteoric rise within Tory ranks, having been elected to represent Witney only four years ago, in 2001. Together with Shadow Chancellor Baron Gideon George Oliver Osborne (whose full name and title seems so apt for this fairy tale), the duo is regarded as the Tory Party’s answer to Messrs Blair and Brown. As yet there is little evidence to support this comparison, though now Baron Osborne has ruled himself out of this limping, faltering race we can expect to hear rumours of a Granita-style pact. Bashful’s key CV points to date include masterminding Tory leader Michael Howard’s assault on Mr Blair’s handling of the David Kelly affair; and as head of policy co-ordination at the last general election. With such crowning achievements behind him, I am sure he can enjoy equal success in the future.
2) Who else could be Sleepy but the Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke, QC, MP? The jazz-loving, hush-puppy-flaunting, ciggy-flogging Sleepy has mastered the anti-politician schtick which contrasts so well with today’s professional pager-politicos – a soberer Charles Kennedy, if you will. Sleepy earns kudos for: four years’ successful management of the British economy; having opposed the Iraq War at a time when most of his party were queuing up to be Mr Blair’s lickspittle battle-fodder; and for being, according to TheyWorkForYou.com, a moderate social liberal. He loses those points, and more besides, for not being arsed to take a Shadow Cabinet position for the last eight years; for juggling his political career with five – count ’em – remunerated directorships (these two points may be related); and for failing so far to set out a compelling narrative of what he would like to achieve as Tory leader. Sleepy is, without doubt, a Big Beast well able to rouse the Princess. Had Sleepy fought the last election, instead of Mr Howard, she would probably have married him last May.
3) David Davis is destined to be Grumpy: and, if he wins, to remain so until at least the next general election. The early favourite to be leader of the Tory Party rarely triumphs: Douglas Hurd (1990), Sleepy (1997) and Michael Portillo (2001) can all testify to that. The pressure is on Grumpy to step up to the plate, and prove his mettle. He has good form: as a widely respected Chairman of the powerful Public Affairs Select Committee; and as one of the few Shadow Cabinet members whose harrying helped claim the scalps of his departmental opposite numbers, David Blunkett and Beverley Hughes. Set against that are the frequent accusations of disloyalty and non-team-playing which litter Grumpy’s press cuttings; and the persistent rumours that his appearance is enhanced by a strategically placed syrup – see http://politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2005/08/04/will-it-be-third-time-lucky-for-david-davis/ for the alleged evidence. (There wasn’t a dwarf called Baldy.) So far, Grumpy’s public pronouncements have done little to suggest he won’t be anything other than a less-creepy-more-thuggish variant of Mr Howard’s grubby right-wing fetishism.
4) Alan Duncan enjoys the Happy soubriquet by default: much to my surprise, there never was a dwarf called Horny. In fact, the diminutive Happy has made by far the most enjoyable utterances of this lacklustre ‘Phoney Campaign’, revelling in the surefire knowledge he wouldn’t win. Happy is never, erm, happier than when coining a media-friendly sound-bite – for example, comparing the Tories’ plight to another former favourite of the Princess: “Marks & Spencer was a fantastic brand in good times but if you have a lousy CEO and lousy knickers you don’t do well. Like M&S we need both a good CEO and better frilly knickers.” An economic and social liberal, Happy was always going to be too ideologically clear-sighted to suit a Party which can never resist censoring the Princess for tasting the Forbidden Fruit.
5) The Doc could be no-one else but the Tory Party’s very own Dr Fox, Liam. That Doc remains such an allegedly strong candidate is one of life’s insignificant mysteries: like why flammable and inflammable mean the same; and how in the name of all that’s holy Anthony won Big Brother. Doc, of course, trades on his sleb cred: a former wild-boy whose liaison with Natalie Imbruglia seems to have been talked-up well beyond its import (I wonder by whom?), his Wildean wit has had the Princess rolling in the aisles. “What do you call three dogs and a black bird?” he once jested. “The Spice Girls.” How we all laughed, albeit silently. Doc hails from the right of the Tory Party – yes, even more so than Grumpy – and, it has been alleged, enjoys the support of past leaders, Messrs Hague and Duncan Smith, and soon-to-be-past-it Mr Howard. ‘Nuff said.
6) Sir Malcolm Rifkind shares the epithet Dopey with potential no-hope candidate Theresa May for a very simple reason. No-one who wants to become leader should publicly and viciously attack their own Party, and both Dopeys have put the boot in big time. Sir Dopey last week-end labelled the Tories “defective”. Mrs Dopey once famously noted that “some people call us the Nazi party” (I may have mis-heard). It’s interesting for an outside observer to note how delighted Tories are to deliver themselves a dissing. Can you imagine any Labour or Liberal Democrat politician indulging in such flagrant self-harming? What both Dopeys should learn to appreciate is that they have no need to hate themselves. There are more than enough of us perfectly capable of doing it for them.
7) That David Willetts should be Sneezy is an absurdity without rationale except this: someone had to be. And yet, and yet… surely we’ve all heard the phrase, “I felt so brainy I couldn’t help but sneeze.”? No? Just me, then. Sneezy would be a prime candidate to become head dwarf but for two drawbacks: the Tories have a natural suspicion of anyone who looks a bit wonkish; and he’s judged just too damn affable to be able to whip this shower into sufficient shape to form Her Majesty’s Opposition, let alone Her Government. As happy name-dropping Bridget Jones as JS Mill, Sneezy is already thinking ahead of the stale ‘moderniser’ v ‘traditionalist’ cul-de-sac the other candidates seem intent on continually driving up and down. It is not enough, he observes, reductively to say you are an economic and social liberal, and leave it at that: “We still have to show that we engage with the problems of people who may not have had the same advantages and opportunities as us.” His recent article in The Times, Out of the Wilderness, in which he outlined the need for a “Conservatism that proposes social reform to create a stronger society” committed a cardinal sin in today’s Tory Party: it made sense. Expect Sneezy to be feted by whoever the Tories choose. And then ignored.
In the Brothers Grimm’s story, of course, the dwarves place Snow White’s sleeping body in a glass coffin, where they mourn her as she lies, untouchable and unreachable. Indeed, such is their reverence for, and incomprehension of, Snow White that none dare wake her from her slumbers.
It is left to a prince from another realm – let’s call him Charles, for ’tis the Prince of Lib Dems’ nomenclature – to rescue Snow White from her eternal reverie. Together they then banish the vain, preening, superficial Queen (Antonia seems a convenient name), who judges her beauty by what the Mirror says, and, together, Prince Charles and Snow White reign supreme. And, naturally, everyone lives happily ever after.
(Please note: any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely contrived. No Tories were harmed during the writing of this article. Much.)