The corridors of power …

Although William Hague usually wins on points in his confrontations with Blair at Westminster, the Tories are still languishing in the opinion polls. The problem is that whatever happens in parliament leaves the electorate largely indifferent. Hague may slaughter Blair verbally week after week, without narrowing the opinion poll gap by even a millimetre.

So what is wrong? Despite John Major’s plea in the last parliament for a classless society, the Tories are still, inaccurately, associated with grasping landlords, heartless tycoons, and those with no interest in the less fortunate.

And mischief-makers have been presenting a scenario in which Hague is depicted before the election as a man doomed as leader afterwards. Any politician, however ruthlessly ambitious, would be mad to start plotting before the nation flocks to the booths.

That is why I acquit Michael Portillo of being behind the widespread, but invariably unsourced stories that he is poised to snatch the crown.

All this speculation is damaging and Hague has privately expressed his displeasure.

But seasoned Westminster watchers cannot understand how the government which has made a shambles of the foot-and-mouth outbreak and which fouled up the petrol blockade last September can ride high and wide in the polls, even when the black clouds of an economic downturn appear to be gathering.

Opinion polls are far from infallible, but Labour’s lead is too great for even the most sceptical to discount them.

The Tories are on only their third leader in more than a quarter of a century, but many senior Tories are strongly opposed to changing the leader after the election even if there is another heavy defeat.

They always took the view that it would take at least two parliaments to make the Tories electable again, and just swapping the leader will not make that task any easier.

  • Chris Moncrieff, a senior political analyst at PA News

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