The Tories put off announcing Iain Duncan Smith’s victory because of the assaults on New York and Washington and, as a result, the triumph of the hard eurosceptic right received much less coverage than it otherwise would.
But look at the shadow cabinet he has appointed. It includes not just Bill Cash, a fervent critic of the European Union top to bottom, but Laurence Robertson, who sailed very close to the wind in the election campaign with remarks about immigration.
The new leader is trying to gag Cash – who is supposedly not to speak on anything but his brief as shadow attorney general – but Duncan Smith must know that Europe is going to haunt his tenure just as he and the other diehards haunted Major’s government.
When Kenneth Clarke’s defeat was announced, a voice was heard in the offices of the Tory Daily Telegraph saying: ‘This means we’re out for three terms.’ It is not much of an exaggeration.
I was at the recent annual conference of the Political Studies Association’s elections group, which brings together pollsters and psephologists. They have a lot to agonise over – most of the commercial polling companies got the election numbers badly wrong.
But their data is remarkably consistent in one regard and has been for years. It shows a clear majority of British people want – and say they are prepared to pay for – better public services.
A Tory party promising to cut public spending as a proportion of GDP from 41% to 35% has a huge public relations problem.
That does not mean (say the pollsters) the Liberal Democrats are going to become the main opposition. It does, however, imply that Labour has a tight lock on power for as long as it likes, at least as long as it commits no horrendous blunders.
Tony Blair may not be loved but he is regarded as competent. There is simply an unbridgeable gulf between what the Tory party believes and what the public wants. That dislocation could have profound consequences for British democracy.
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