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    26 March, 2005

    Howard's Flight from Reality

    Michael Howard has hugely over-reacted to Howard Flight's honesty about Tory plans for public service cuts and has therefore played into Labour's hands.

    Sacking Flight as Tory Deputy Chairman would have been understandable, as that would have been a clear way of stating that he did not represent the Party leadership's position.

    Sacking him as a Tory candidate does two things. First, it appears to be putting him into the same category as Jonathan Sayeed, forced out for entirely different reasons, which looks a bit unfair on Flight.

    Second, it makes it seem as though Flight's views are not acceptable within the Conservative Party, despite the fact that there are probably thousands of Tory members who hold the view that the welfare state should be trimmed back. It is of course a classic Conservative position, in the UK and in the US. The Adam Smith Institute , for example, though not an official Tory think-tank, nevertheless represents a wide swathe of Tory opinion in favour of smaller government, and was a leading source of right-wing Tory ideas in the 70s and 80s. Its blog states that:

    It researches practical ways to inject choice and competition into public services, extend personal freedom, reduce taxes, prune back regulation, and cut government waste.

    Indeed, commenting last week on the sacking of Danny Kruger, as the Tory candidate against Tony Blair in Sedgefield, one of its bosses, Dr Eamon Butler, said :

    So Danny was just making the point that we need radical reform in health, education, welfare, and the rest. Without a bit of "creative destruction" nothing will change, and public services will continue to be stuck in their ways, costing too much and delivering too little, too badly.

    He was echoing a similar point made by William Rees-Mogg in the Times. Rees-Mogg is, as he himself said, parent to two Tory candidates, one of them standing in Wales, and therefore knows a large number of young Tory candidates himself. He said in his article:

    If the Conservatives do not plan to have some “creative destruction”, they will not get any reform: they might just as well pack up and go home....It is embarrassing that the Conservative Party, even in election time, could be so silly, so lacking in intellectual freedom. Michael Howard got it wrong.

    Of course, therein lies Howard's problem: having excluded Danny Kruger as a candidate, he had to do something similar to Howard Flight, though the action is more severe in Flight's case: he was the sitting MP, whereas Kruger was never going to win Sedgefield.

    As The Times editorial says today of Howard Flight:

    To expel him from the parliamentary party for articulating views that are widely held within it and can hardly be deemed offensive does seem excessive.... Mr Howard may be running too tight a ship for the comfort of some of his sailors. It remains to be discovered what the broader costs will be for the Conservative Party.

    The Times also rightly notes that the further sacking of Howard Flight will keep the story in the headlines for more than one day. ITN's Nick Robinson in the same paper makes the best attempt I have seen this morning to justify Howard's action, in arguing that Howard felt he had to sack him for the suggestion that to win elections you had to say one thing and do another, which is at the core of one of the Tories' attacks on the PM, the trust issue.

    But I suspect it's a blunder on their part.

    And yes, I'm gloating. Was it only a week ago that they said our attacks on their planned cuts in spending were lies?

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

    Author's editorial policy: This blog does not publish anonymous comments, unless they are really witty and I like them. If you have something to say, then have the courage of your convictions and use your name or an identifiable alias. Even then I reserve the right not to publish comments that are malicious, defamatory, stupid, pointlessly cynical or boring. Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the National Assembly for Wales, any constituent part or connected body.