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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
The ghastly process has begun
Jerry Hayes, Conservative MP for Harlow from 1983 to 1997, reveals the fear and loathing that runs rife inside the parliamentary party once a leadership battle is under way.

It must be great to be a Tory MP.

Okay, you may be as welcome on the doorstep as a rat sandwich and even the Samaritans hang up on you, but the scary Japanese torture show that has become the Conservative leadership election gives Tory MPs a sense of Disneyland importance. I know - I've been there.


In Tory Leadership Election 2001, the ghastly process of cuddling up to the backbenches has begun

If you think the Tories are a mutinous bunch of malcontents now, cast your minds back to the dying days of Thatcher, when the words "chickens" and "headless" understated the mood of the backbenches.

We were running scared. After 12 years of the Tories, the sky was black with Thatcherite chickens coming home to roost.

Yet despite an almost Blairite majority, her 1990 leadership campaign was a shambles. At a time when joined-up government really meant the benign breaking of dissident bones, those running her campaign hadn't got a clue.

Ignorant rabble

It must be quite disconcerting to be one of the most powerful leaders in the world only to suddenly discover that the ghastly, ignorant, rabble whose bodies you only want for their votes can actually switch off the life-support machine unless you cuddle up to them.


It is a dreadful experience being a campaign manager. You have to be pleasant to some of the maddest, eccentric and most deeply deranged of your colleagues

So in Tory Leadership Election 2001, the ghastly process of cuddling up to the backbenches has begun.

The first golden rule of these ersatz lovefests is don't try and work out the odds by applying the normally sane rules of political orientation.

Leadership elections should be likened to the Charge of the Spite Brigade. During the Thatcher-Heseltine contest, ITN's Mike Brunson and I worked out the first ballot results over a few bottles of Sancerre in a seedy Westminster wine bar.

Our calculations were based on the personal malice of the dramatis personae, rather than their being considered "wets" or "dries". We were four votes out.

Daft assurances required

It is a dreadful experience being a campaign manager. You have to be pleasant to some of the maddest, eccentric and most deeply deranged of your colleagues, whom normally you would not want to be within cat-swinging distance under a full moon.

They don't just want jobs. The poor wusses also demand daft assurances on local by-passes and loopy policies.


When it is all over and the victor sips from the poisoned chalice of leadership, promising a party of tolerance and inclusion, the list of the dissidents to be rounded up is made

Normally, these guys wouldn't be given house room. But for three deliriously happy weeks they are listened to with attention.

The biggest problem the contenders have is trying to work out who is telling the truth.

You may not believe this, but most politicians are suckers for flattery and many wouldn't know the difference between fact or fiction even if it ran into them with a large gin and tonic.

The words of Peter Morrison, Margaret Thatcher's aide, should be engraved on his tombstone: "Prime minister, if you haven't won then there are a lot of Tory MPs who are lying." Oh dear.

Brownie points

And then there is the ballot. I was a scrutineer during the John Major "back me or sack me" leadership campaign of 1995.

I was meant to be impartial (which of course I was), but most knew that my loyalties were with him. So those wishing to score what they thought were Brownie points strode up to the ballot box and showed me where they had placed their cross.

Others, of whose names I took careful note, slunk to the back of the room and made their choice in Milosovecian secrecy, only to be dealt with later.

And when it is all over and the victor sips from the poisoned chalice of leadership, promising a party of tolerance and inclusion, the list of the dissidents to be rounded up is made.

And the rest of the Conservative Party sleepwalks back into obscurity.


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